UNESCO Chair: Honouring Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen

2024-03-05 The first holder of the UNESCO Chair "Higher Education for Sustainable Development" at Leuphana was bid farewell. During the ceremony, Gerd Michelsen reminded everyone that sustainable transformation is a long-term task: "It has been with us for 25, maybe 30 years, but has not yet reached its final phase."

[Translate to Englisch:] UNESCO Chair: Ehrung von Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen ©Ciara Burgess
[Translate to Englisch:] UNESCO Chair: Ehrung von Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen ©Ciara Burgess
[Translate to Englisch:] UNESCO Chair: Ehrung von Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen ©Ciara Burgess

It was like a family reunion: Prof Dr Gerd Michelsen shook hands, hugged friends and shared memories. Many companions and academic colleagues came to honour the retired professor on the occasion of his departure from Leuphana. Gerd Michelsen took over the UNESCO Chair in 2005 and held it until his retirement in 2022.

Dr Marlen Meissner from the German UNESCO Commission gave the laudatory speech for Gerd Michelsen, highlighting in particular his remarkable contributions to the work of the German UNESCO Commission: "Even back then, the Chair embodied the values of international cooperation, knowledge exchange and striving for a more peaceful and sustainable world. Throughout its work since its foundation, the Chair has not only reflected the goals of UNESCO in an outstanding way, but also Leuphana's mission statement, which is based on the principles of sustainability, action-orientation and humanism."

Gerd Michelsen outlined the beginnings of his sustainable vision: "At the time, we asked: How can we use Agenda 21, the final document of the first UN Sustainable Development Summit in 1992, to bring new ideas to the university?" The path was not always easy: "We encountered a lot of resistance from various faculties at the time," he described. But a small group of colleagues believed in the idea of sustainability and took up the challenge.

Today, the UNESCO Chair at Leuphana encompasses a large academic network and strengthens sustainability-related research and education. The insights gained at the UNESCO Chair "Higher Education for Sustainable Development" are applied, for example, in the "Science Transformed: Responsible Action" module of the Leuphana Semester. Here, first-semester students conduct research into social transformation processes towards sustainable development. The students present the results of their project seminars at the conference week at the end of their first semester at Leuphana.

Sascha Spoun honoured Gerd Michelsen "for his decades of commitment, the fruits of which we can see, feel and touch today". The President of Leuphana also thanked Prof Dr Daniel Lang, Prof Michelsen's first successor in the UNESCO Chair, "for twelve years of great commitment to sustainability". Daniel Lang is now Professor of Real-World Laboratory Research at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) in Karlsruhe.

Prof Dr Daniel Fischer, Professor of Education for Sustainable Development and Sachunterricht, is taking over the UNESCO Chair, which is now based at the newly founded Sustainability Education and Transdisciplinary Research Institute (SETRI) at the Faculty of Sustainability.

One focus of the UNESCO Chair's future work is to strengthen student involvement, for example by establishing a student representative for the UNESCO Chair. Next October, an international conference will be part of the launch week at Leuphana. Daniel Fischer emphasised the importance of cooperation on education for sustainable development at all levels, especially within Leuphana, which the UNESCO Chair is intended to promote even more: "The UNESCO Chair is not a financial sponsorship or a building. It is made up of people who want to make a difference together."


  • Prof. Dr. Daniel Fischer