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The guideline "Sustainability management in non-university research organisations" is the result of a joint research project of the Fraunhofer Association, the Helmholtz Association and the Leibniz Association funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The aim of the research project was to develop a uniform understanding of the fields of action in which non-university research institutions can make a contribution to sustainable development as organisations and employers.

Project structure

Research-specific requirements and contents were developed in three sub-projects, which focused on the topics of "Research with societal responsibility", "Staff" and "Construction and operation" and formed the basis for the fields of action. Furthermore, current information on sustainability management and sustainability reporting was incorporated, based on the state of knowledge from relevant literature, standards and guidelines.

The project ran from December 2013 to November 2016.


As a cross-organisational project, the project was characterised by a large number of project participants, networks and working groups: around 25 institutions and 90 project participants from science, administration and management. Special thanks are due to the project steering committee and the external advisory board, which provided the project team with advice and expertise, as well as to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for funding the project.

A participatory approach in the project made it possible to integrate the know-how of existing networks and working groups in the three research organisations and at the same time to achieve a broad awareness of the topic of sustainable development during the project period.

Aims of the project

The overall objective of the joint research project was to arrive at a generally accepted understanding of how non-university research institutions as scientific organisations and employers can integrate the concept of sustainable development.

The following sub-goals were derived from this:

  • Identification of relevant fields of action for research-specific sustainability management for non-university research organisations - particularly in the three areas of research, staff and construction and operation.
  • Development of options for action (management approaches) in the relevant fields of action: the focus here is on processes and organisational measures for the integration of sustainability in non-university research organisations.
  • Collection of best practices: corresponding practical examples from the participating research organisations are to be made available to all institutions.
  • Preparing and communicating the results in a way that is appropriate for the target audience

The "Research" sub-project has set itself the particular goal of defining "research with societal responsibility" and developing a set of criteria for research in societal responsibility that supports scientists in their own reflection on the societal responsibility of research (framework for reflection).

The "Staff" sub-project pursued the goal of preparing the topic of "sustainable staff management" in a well-founded manner and analysing the structural framework as well as assessments, strategies and concepts of non-university research institutions with regard to sustainable staff management.

The "Construction and Operation" sub-project aimed to develop a common understanding of the integration of sustainability aspects into property management and to develop principles and tools for planning, construction, operation and utilisation based on the principles of sustainable development.

Understanding of sustainability

The understanding of sustainable development on which this guideline is based essentially refers to the Brundtland Commission's definition of the guiding principle as

"[...] development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (1987)

This normative understanding is primarily aimed at the long-term preservation of natural, social and economic resources in the interests of present and future generations and thus includes the demand for inter- and intragenerational justice in a global context. The equal consideration of the three dimensions of environment, economy and social affairs is of central importance: environmental protection, economic performance and societal responsibility must be brought together in such a way that decisions are sustainable from all three points of view. Preserving the carrying capacity of the earth's ecosystem is the absolute limit. Sustainable development is context-dependent and requires continuous negotiation processes between the various stakeholder groups due to potential conflicts of objectives.

LeNa Guideline

This paper is only available in German

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