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DFG statutory bodies approve recommendations and catalogue of guiding questions put forward by the Sustainability Commission, which was set up by the DFG´s Executive Committee
Science and the humanities are both urgently called upon to take action when it comes to climate protection and the conservation of the environment. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) made sustainability the main focus of its annual meeting on 26-28 June in Saarbrücken, where it passed fundamental resolutions to encourage active engagement with aspects of sustainability in the research process, primarily those relating to the environment. In its role as the largest research funding organisation in Germany, the DFG is actively involved in shaping the framework of the German research system.
The core outcome of the discussions and resolutions were the recommendations on “Anchoring sustainability considerations in DFG funding activities”. These were developed by the DFG Sustainability Commission set up by the Executive Committee in 2021, concluding the work of the 20-member interdisciplinary group led by DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker. The recommendations focus on environmental sustainability, but also include links to other aspects, such as social and economic sustainability.
Becker stated: “As a sector within society at large, science and the humanities are called upon to make their contribution to climate and environmental protection. The profound, ongoing shift towards sustainable practices and processes in research requires broad-based support, however. The DFG fulfils its responsibility in this regard by integrating a consideration on aspects of sustainability in the research process as a mandatory part of all DFG funding formats.”
According to the Commission’s recommendations, applicants for DFG grants must provide a concise account of sustainability aspects in their research process, including a succinct and comprehensible outline of any potential for reduction of emissions and use of resources as part of the materials submitted along with the project proposal. This information will be taken into account when the decision on the proposal is made – not as a discipline-specific assessment, but as a plausibility check. As always, the choice of research content is the sole responsibility of the applicants.
The recommendations emphasise that the discipline-specific needs of each subject should be considered both in the proposal submission and in the review, evaluation and decision-making process. Moreover, consideration of climate protection and of environmental and resource conservation at the project level should not be an obstacle to advancing academic/scientific knowledge. This aspect was explicitly underlined by the members of the DFG statutory bodies in their discussions.
In order to support these considerations in the proposal submission process, the Commission has drawn up a Sustainability Guide for Research Processes. This is a cross-disciplinary catalogue of guiding questions on sustainability aspects in the research process relating to four thematic areas: travel, methodology and design, computing, and equipment procurement/operation. The guide contains examples of references and questions to consider. It is not conclusive or mandatory, however, nor does it require an entire set of responses on the part of applicants.
All in all, the DFG is pursuing a “learning process” that allows flexibility for iterative development and adaptation in research. At the same time, the aim is to stimulate creativity in the individuals and organisations involved so as to drive forward the process of change from within the research system itself. A report will therefore be submitted to the DFG Senate by the DFG Head Office after three years to provide an account of the initial findings gained in this area.
Numerous experts and members of the DFG’s statutory bodies – review boards, Senate committees, the Senate, the Joint Committee and the Executive Committee – were involved in the almost two-year process of establishing the considerations on sustainability in the DFG’s funding activities. Modalities on sustainability aspects will be incorporated successively in the proposal guidelines for all DFG funding programmes from the beginning of 2024 onwards. This does not include the second proposal and funding phase of the programme offered by the federal government and federal states under the Excellence Strategy; since this is already underway, the competitive conditions that apply in the ongoing procedure will not be altered.
After initial discussions at the spring meeting of the DFG Senate, the Joint Committee adopted the recommendations on 27 June in Saarbrücken. The General Assembly subsequently acknowledged and approved the recommendations at its meeting on 28 June.
To the recommendations Verankerung des Nachhaltigkeitsgedankens im DFG-Förderhandeln (“Anchoring sustainability considerations in DFG funding activities” – in German):
For the Sustainability Guide to Research Processes:
Press release “DFG Sustainability Commission Meets for the First Time” (16 March 2022):
Programme contact at the DFG Head Office:
All press releases relating to the 2023 annual meeting are also available in a digital press folder, which is supplemented on an ongoing basis at: