Headline: “GSSS is not just about delivering knowledge – it is about connecting people and ideas”

For the past two weeks, 40 young professionals and academics from 26 different countries have been deliberating about urban sustainability at the Global Sustainability Summer School (GSSS) 2013 in Potsdam. The GSSS was hosted by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Participants have attended lectures, workshops, and discussions; met world renown experts; visited start-ups; and enjoyed many excursions.

Besides being from different counties across the globe and from both hemispheres, the participants came also from different professional backgrounds: Among them scientists, architects, economists, businesspeople. “I have had some time interacting with them […] and the types of questions people ask, the variety of disciplines, the variety of backgrounds – there are not many places where you can talk to an architect or someone who designs. They have just completely different approaches and lots of curiosity. This is one of the few places for people who are starting in their career […] to come together and to just have some space to think and learn from each other, to connect with each other across disciplines, backgrounds, professions that would never otherwise connect or have a common interest. I think these kinds of summer schools are one of the most important types of education”, states Jessica Seddon, GSSS-lecturer from IIHS India.

The GSSS-participants also visited the European Climate-KIC green garage in Berlin-Schöneberg where they learnt about European programs to develop new green businesses and had the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs from Berlin’s start-ups. During 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, participants caught a glimpse of future efficient farming technology.

Working in workshops, participants have been preparing several works. By combining their expertise, groups of participants have drafted business plans, policy papers and academic proposals. They have also been learning new ways of communicating their research: Half of the group has been developing science slam presentations – combining science with entertainment; the other half has been learning to accept vulnerability as they developed a theatre piece.

The majority of the time was spent discussing with experts provided by the IASS and PIK networks. Local experts, as well as visitors from a large range of foreign institutions presented their ideas and experiences with sustainable cities. For example, a representative from the city of Bogota presented ways of pursuing sustainable development and reducing poverty; a consultant working in India presented the institutional challenges of policy making; a representative from the European Environmental Agency presented his vision of the future; a mathematics professor explained predictive modeling of cities.

To sum the GSSS up, Thibaud Henin, one of the participants, says “As we head back to our home countries and institutions, we take with us 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.”