Optimum performing and practicing conditions for young artists, ideal storage conditions for valuable instruments, and perfectly lit film studios: reconciling the special needs of an arts university with the mdw’s sustainability goals is frequently a balancing act, and it confronts this university’s employees with new challenges day in and day out.

“Our core responsibility is to create the best possible conditions for teaching, research, and appreciation of the arts. But in doing so, we want to leave behind a fair ecological footprint,” explains Berthold Huber, head of the Department of Facility Management (AGT) at the mdw. This aim is anchored in the mdw’s Development Plan: there, the University declares its commitment to the principle of sustainability and obligates itself to treat ecological, economic, social, and artistic resources with respect.

The mdw has already won several awards for its climate protection efforts over the past few years—including the 2018 Sustainability Award (a national award for sustainable institutions of higher education) and the award “Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung – BEST OF AUSTRIA” [Education for Sustainable Development – …] in 2017.

Great success was had by the university’s collaboration with Ökoprofit, a consulting programme of the City of Vienna focused on energy consumption, waste management, and the reduction of operating costs through the efficient use of resources. [“Ökoprofit” is a collaborative model known outside the German-speaking region as “ECOPROFIT”—trans.]. “Together with Ökoprofit, we put together a great sustainability programme,” says a happy Silvia Erdik, department secretary at the Franz Schubert Department of Wind and Percussion Instruments in Music Education and founder of “green mdw”. “We formed an environmental group and now have contacts for various areas of concern like recyclable waste sorting, mobility, and procurement.” A further great advantage of this programme is the ability to compare this year’s and last year’s balances, which makes successes even more clearly visible. For the second year in a row, the mdw has won the Ökoprofit Award for successful participation in the programme. And as a next step, the plan is to participate in Ökoprofit’s European equivalent, EMAS, an EU-wide system for environmental management and auditing.

What I’d like is to see sustainability be given consideration in every decision that gets made.

Silvia Erdik, founder of green mdw

It’s now been seven years since the working platform “green mdw” began promoting a sustainability agenda within the university administration. Silvia Erdik remembers the early days of this initiative back in 2013: “It used to be that tonnes of photocopying went on during the appointments process; I found that wastefulness unbelievably disturbing and decided to do something about it.” As a result, various processes were retooled to run more efficiently via the mdw’s online applications portal, while the mdwBox now enables search committee members to access the relevant documents online. The actual use of paper has been considerably reduced thanks to these measures, and what’s more, the share of recycled paper used at the entire mdw has now risen to around 98 %.

“Green meetings”, which the mdw has been certified to hold since 2017, are another example being set by the University in the interest of sustainability. And as a further step, the mdw’s events have now been re-conceived in a fairer way, including proper waste separation and a switch to reusable eating utensils in the interest of resource conservation: “The mdw holds around 1,300 events each year. And when the attendees see us paying attention to waste separation and also using glassware and reusable utensils, it sets an important example,” explains Silvia Erdik. The idea for this transition to so-called FAIRanstaltungen [FAIR Events] came from Brigitte Rechberger, deputy head of the mdw’s Department of Facility Management, and the necessary practical steps were overseen by Birgit Huebener of the Administrative Department for Equality, Gender Studies & Diversity. It’s now the case that an increasing number of employees—such as Joanna Guilarte-Tomic and Hannes Berner of the Event Management Office—are supporting the efforts of “green mdw” and also advocating for the topic of climate protection: “The climate crisis can’t be overcome by individuals; we’ll only succeed if all of us join in,” asserts Silvia Erdik.

A further ally, this time in the mdw Senate, was found in Michael Dörfler-Kneihs. The Working Group on Climate Protection, which Dörfler-Kneihs co-coordinates, was formed in order to lend support to previously initiated processes at the mdw as well as to get the University focussed on topics relating to procurement, mobility, and energy. “We’d like to see our colleagues take an interest in important questions concerning the mdw’s energy balance—because it’s frequently impossible to imagine just how much energy gets used by what.”

Electricity, which accounts for around two thirds of our institution’s energy consumption, is also the leader in terms of its CO₂ emissions: central components like ventilation and air-conditioning units for event spaces and rooms containing technical equipment, as well as the University’s overall infrastructure, entail relatively high baseline energy consumption. Therefore, important measures are being taken in order to optimise the mdw’s energy balance including the installation of modernised cooling systems for the campus’s main server room. “Thanks to these systems, we no longer need to cool the entire room. The servers are enclosed in cabinets so that the cooling can be concentrated on individual components,” says Berthold Huber by way of description. Further important measures aimed at the reduction of energy usage include the elimination of conventional light switches in favour of presence detectors as well as the installation of a centrally controlled, daylight-sensitive hallway and stairwell lighting system.

It would make me especially happy to see something work well over the long term and be sustainable at the same time.

Berthold Huber

In terms of climate change, a central conundrum is the question of how to realise air-conditioning for the soundproofed music rooms. “We don’t air-condition them yet, but a time will come when we’ll no longer be able to avoid doing so,” the AGT head is certain. “Soon, regularly opening the windows will no longer be enough—and while residential-style ventilation and air conditioning units are effective, they’re also acoustically problematic since they tend to conduct soundwaves.” The market is currently being flooded with technical options, but very few of these developments conform to the needs of the mdw. Consequently, this trained technician thinks that remaining critical towards innovations and assessing ideas in terms of their long-term sustainability will be one of the central challenges of the next five-to-ten years.

As to the most important measure needed for a green future, Silvia Erdik and Berthold Huber are in agreement: “People need to be shaken awake, because it’s a fact that big changes are only possible when everyone’s willing to make compromises.”

The mdw has been member of the Alliance of Sustainable Universities in Austria since 2017. On 28 June of that year, Vice Rector Gerda Müller signed that organisation’s “Memorandum of Understanding” in the presence of Martin Gerzabek, then-Rector of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU).

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