Good Bye for 2013

Global Sustainability Summer School 2013
Complex(c)ity – urbanization and energy transitions in a changing climate

Forty young professionals and academics came together in July 2013 and  have been deliberating about urban sustainability at the Global Sustainability Summer School (GSSS) hosted by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).  Weaving throughout Potsdam on their bicycles, they have attended lectures, workshops, and discussions; met world renown experts; visited start-ups; and enjoyed many leisure activities showcasing the sights and tastes of Berlin and Brandenburg.

The GSSS boasted a busy and well-coordinated programme – but it was not just about delivering knowledge – it was and is about connecting people and ideas.  The forty participants came from 26 different countries located across the globe and both hemispheres.    Scientists, architects, economists, business people – these were a few of the professions of members from this diverse group.   In this way, the GSSS is a social experiment.  The issues surrounding cities and sustainability cut across disciplines; the field of study is young.  By bringing this large range of  perspectives, cultures and values together, participants had to develop intercultural skills and had to explain their work to new audiences.   The GSSS removes established barriers of communication in order to allow for the free flow of ideas and obliges participants to confront their preconceived notions and ideas.  This contributes to two developments.  It generates a creative spark which leads to new innovative ideas and methods; and develops the professional network necessary to support these innovations.

To facilitate this process we undertook a variety of different activities.  Debates over the designs of cities took place well into the night. Sometimes lost, but always found, the participants learned to navigate the transport and streets as they discovered the history and beauty of Potsdam.  One of the cultural highlights was a bike trip to Caputh. Participants visited Einstein’s house and made a stop at a local brewery for lunch.  There they enjoyed local delicacies and local beer, neither of which made the return journey easier, but made for a wonderful afternoon in the sunshine.

Workdays consisted of a variety of participatory activities, field trips and lectures.   Not limiting themselves to Potsdam, participants discovered Gendarmenmarkt as they attended a panel discussion at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, where the panelist experts presented their views on the future of cities and fielded questions from the audience. They also visited the European Climate-KIC green garage in Schoeneberg where they learnt about European programmes to develop new green businesses and had the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs from Berlin’s start-ups.   Speeding around the Climate-KIC campus testing electric bikes was difficult at first, but once the participants got the hang of it, it provided a hands on introduction to electric mobility.  In another visit, they explored a former malt factory where they now research and market aquaculture farming solutions.  Squeezing tilapia into large tanks and pumping the filtered nutrients to greenhouses growing tomatoes and other vegetables, participants caught a glimpse of future efficient farming technology.

Working hard in workshops, participants had to prepare several works.  By combining their expertise, groups of participants drafted business plans, policy papers and academic proposals – the fruits of which are likely to be borne in the years to come.  They also learned new ways of communicating their research in developing science slam presentations.

In other workshops, moderated by experts from IASS and PIK, participants discussed their thoughts shared their experiences as they prepared presentations on a variety of topics surrounding European sustainability policy such as feed-in tariffs, energy efficiency and renewable energy.  For some, this was their first exposure to the European Policy agenda, and provided interesting contrasts to the policies in their home countries.

The majority of the time was spent discussing with experts provided by the IASS and PIK networks.  Experts located locally, as well as visitors from a large range of foreign institutions presented their ideas and experiences with sustainable cities.   For example, Gerrardo Ardila, a representative from the city of Bogota presented ways of pursuing sustainable development and reducing poverty and Jessica Seddon, a consultant working in India presented the institutional challenges of policy making.

As the participants head back to their home countries and institutions, they bring with them an unforgettable experience, new ideas and new friends.  Although the future is uncertain and there is no clear path to sustainability, the GSSS has brought together disparate groups of knowledge into a coherent curriculum.  During the next few months participants will continue to digest and internalize the vast quantity of knowledge.  They will spread the lessons learnt, and hopefully take us one step closer to a sustainable lifestyle.