Who Cares about Sustainability?

How can you contribute to a more sustainable world during your studies at ETH and afterwards? Are your specialised skills useful for tackling the climate crisis? Even something as seemingly far removed as physics?

by Polykum Redaktion

Among my circle of friends who started studying at ETH five years ago, hardly anyone knew what the journey would be like afterwards. How could we? After all, no one could have anticipated a two-year pandemic during which work would mainly take place from home, getting to know new people would be much more difficult, and experiences abroad would have to be postponed, if not cancelled. Who knows what the future holds? Well, one thing we do know is that our climate is changing and we should do something about it. But how exactly can students address this crisis?

Dedicated to sustainability

There is often not much time for non- academic activities while studying at ETH – ideally, there should be room for doing sports, meeting friends, and getting some sleep. On top of that, lockdowns and covid infections are rather dampening for the motivation. Nevertheless, our climate is changing and does not wait for us to have time. Simultaneously, career decisions are getting closer and closer – what will I do after graduation? Motivated by this question, Petia Arabadjieva and I, both physics students, thought about how students could make the world more sustainable with the knowledge gained at ETH.

“who cares?”

With our project “who cares?” we want to get one step closer to answering this question. We chose – maybe the most obvious approach – to meet and interview people who have been in our situation. We asked former physics students who are promoting sustainability today: How does your physics degree help you now? Which skills have proven to be useful? What would you do differently today? It is not always evident how the skills and knowledge acquired in abstract lectures can be of value when it comes to solving societal challenges. Hence, we are not only after scientific solutions to tackle climate change, but also interested in approaches in the private sector or personal activities during free time. We also want to show that there are numerous possibilities with a physics degree. Therefore, we share a written interview on our website whocares.ethz.ch and record video statements to easily spread the most important points.

Representing the students’ demands: SSC

Of course, we are neither the only ones, nor the first, who aim to make ETH students aware of how they can use their drive and skills to contribute to a more sustainable world. Within the Student Sustainability Commission (SSC), the Development Team is working on promoting sustainability in all areas of life at ETH. It works closely with VSETH to bring the students’ demands for more sustainability in campus development to the attention of the competent people in the ETH administration. It is in close collaboration with “ETH Sustainability”, the central body for sustainability at ETH.

There is a lot going on

One major and long-continued area of work is the food offer in the campus cafeterias.

A survey among students showed that they wish for more vegetarian and vegan meals, and that these should also be less expensive.

Connecting sustainability initiatives at ETH

Besides the SSC, there are many more sustainability initiatives all across ETH, led both by students and staff. These include, for example “PRISMA”, which organises a course where students of different departments can work on projects related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, the Student Project House supports multiple projects such as “Circular Horizon”, which aims to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The “Arbeitsgruppe Nachhaltigkeit” set up a room where architecture students can recycle their modelling materials. Mechanical engineering students can apply to D-MAVT CARES for funding for sustainability- related focus projects. The list is long – these are only some examples! From experience, it is often hard for student initiatives to receive publicity and they might not even know about each other. Thus, SSC launched the group “Sustainability Initiatives at ETH” on the ETH social network “Point”, where you can find brief descriptions of all these. If you are interested in contributing or even want to set up your own sustainability initiative, you should definitely get in touch with SSC!

Get Involved

Check out the website of the “who cares?” project to find out what physicists are doing to make humanity sustainable: whocares.ethz.ch

SSC (ssc.ethz.ch) is continuously looking for new members to support and continue its many ongoing projects. It is hosting an “ETH Sustainability Summit” in May, at which different sustainability initiatives briefly present themselves. Furthermore, you can check out the ongoing projects at the “SSC Meet and Greet” event on 18 May, 6–8 p.m. in HG E 33.3.

A collection of sustainability initiatives can be found at point.ethz.ch.

Petita and Jan are shooting a video statement.

Petita and Jan are shooting a video statement.


Jan Zibell, 23,
studies Physics and would probably commit to a sustainability initiative much earlier if he were to study again.

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