AWI Sustainability Guideline


According to the Brundtland Report of 1987, development is sustainable if it meets the needs of the present generation and does not jeopardise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In order to do justice to the principle and core of sustainability, the three dimensions of sustainability, i.e. environment, social affairs and economy, should be equally considered and - where possible - brought together.

The Brundtland Report has made a significant contribution to the broad social and political recognition of the concept of sustainability. Science, too, has identified many good reasons for the value of sustainable action in ecological, social and economic terms. Against this background, it is important to use the earth's resources sparingly. The basis for this is the achievement of a high system understanding for medium- and long-term interactions.

The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) focuses on climate, biodiversity and Earth system research and is recognised worldwide in this field. We also investigate the relationship between humans and the environment and engage in dialogue with society on various aspects of the effects of human activity. With our research, we make a scientific contribution to international sustainability goals and point out social ways to sustainability. This results in a special role model function for employees, politics and society.

As a major research centre, the AWI maintains stations in the Arctic and Antarctic, research vessels and polar aircraft. This is associated with a comparatively high consumption of resources. For this reason, we aim to minimize the impact of our research on our research objects and locations, while maintaining high standards.

As a member of the Helmholtz Association, the AWI, together with the Leibniz Association and the Fraunhofer Society, has made a contribution to the publication "Sustainability Management in Non-University Research Organisations" (LeNa) and is committed to the resulting guidelines, the implementation of which we are working on.


Organizational Leadership

The AWI attaches great importance to sustainable organisational management. This means providing the best possible support for research dynamics against the background of legal, financial and ethical frameworks. It includes strategic planning based on short, medium and long-term goals with the participation of all relevant functional areas. Employees are involved in organisational development in various dialogue-oriented formats. For us, openness, good communication and mutual trust as well as the recognition of the diversity of services are central values. An outstanding contribution to international research, a high level of employee satisfaction and a good working atmosphere are important factors in strengthening employee motivation and identification with the AWI.



The AWI contributes to the understanding of the effects between nature, man and technology by decoding complex processes in the Earth system. This is the first prerequisite for the development of solutions to major societal challenges. In addition, we make concrete contributions to the goals for sustainable development of the United Nations (UN). This includes, for example, improving research into the causes and effects of climate change and environmental pollution, the risks to biodiversity and the opportunities offered by nature conservation. In this way, we generate scientific knowledge for society that forms the overarching basis for the development of future scenarios and for deriving societal options for action.

With our research on changes in the atmosphere, the cryosphere, the ocean and the coast, corresponding feedback mechanisms as well as the consequences of climate change for polar and marine ecosystems and biodiversity, we contribute to a large number of status reports. These include international reports (e.g. from IPCC1, IPBES2, OSPAR3, HELCOM4, SCAR5) as well as reports from various federal agencies. AWI scientists are also involved in basic research and data provision on marine conservation issues, including North Sea research, Antarctic research (CCAMLR), the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg (HIFMB) and the activities of the German Alliance for Marine Research. Our long-term ecological time series (LTER) play an important role in identifying changes in environmental conditions at an early stage and in describing their consequences, for example with regard to bio-diversity. In suitable areas, the AWI conducts research on environmentally friendly bioeconomic technologies and processes, such as bionic lightweight construction and aquaculture, which improve research performance and, where possible, directly contribute to the reduction of emissions and the protection of natural resources.

Risks from knowledge uncertainties are also reflected, as well as the methods and results applied and their possible social and ecological consequences. The AWI supports the open provision of data, knowledge and information as a strategic goal. The "Principles for Dealing with Research Data of the Alliance of Scientific Organisations" and the "Position Paper of the Helmholtz Association on Dealing with Research Data" as well as the proposals of the German Research Association (DFG) on "Securing Good Scientific Practice" and the "Guidelines for Publication and Data Archiving" developed internally by AWI, are applied. The "Guidelines for Responsible Science at the AWI" provide important impetus, among other things, and a Risk Assessment Committee has been set up to implement them. Together with the scientific community, this committee continuously identifies and analyses possible social and ecological risks of research projects during the application process. In order to keep the impact of our own research on the environment to a minimum, we, like all participants in expeditions led by AWI, are committed to the "Declaration on Responsible Marine Research" issued by the Senate Commission for Oceanography of the DFG and the German Marine Research Consortium (KDM). In addition, the KDM's "Altonaer Erklärung" (Altona Declaration), with its numerous goals for increased sustainability in coastal and marine research, is a guiding principle for the AWI.


Knowledge communication and transfer

Sustainable dialogue and exchange with politics, society and business are very important to AWI. Knowledge transfer, including technology transfer, is strategically developed and reflected. First and foremost, our comprehensive contributions to training, teaching and further education should be mentioned, including in particular our HIGHSEA school programme, the SEASIDE and OPENSEA student laboratories, the vocational training of numerous young people, the contributions of science to teaching at universities and a broad spectrum of offers for personnel development. In addition, the direct linking of research with knowledge communication and other pillars of knowledge and technology transfer also plays a crucial role.

We continuously inform the professional and the general public about our work and research results via various communication formats ranging from press releases to television and radio interviews, to our own AWI channels for social media. In doing so, we gain long-term partners without losing flexibility. The resulting high public visibility of AWI research contributes to highlighting the particular challenge of climate change, the impending loss of habitats and species and the overall significance of the UN goals for sustainable development for oceans and polar regions and to keeping these issues present in the public consciousness.

A particular challenge for us is the targeted transfer of knowledge to solve important social issues in the area of sustainability. This not only involves the processing of existing findings, but also new research processes, which are initiated, designed and implemented via the synthesis and communication platform of the Helmholtz Association's (SynCom) Research Field Earth and Environment in association with relevant stakeholders from politics, society and industry. In this way, we can prepare research approaches and findings in a targeted manner and on the basis of integrated communication processes, and convert them into targeted products. The North Sea Office, the Climate Office or the Arctic Office play an important role in this. In return, research questions can be sharpened and even newly identified by recognising stakeholder needs.

With the help of technology transfer, the AWI contributes to improving the balance between the use and preservation of natural habitats, also by means of technical solutions, by transferring know-how and innovation approaches into sustainable economic use.


Personnel Development

For the AWI, the recruitment of qualified employees is just as essential as the creation and maintenance of attractive working conditions and career prospects for personnel who have already been employed for some time. We therefore attach great importance to offering our employees continuous opportunities for further training and career development.

The AWI also feels obliged to promote young talent holistically and to deal responsibly with the time limit and period of employment contracts. Among the outstanding examples of the promotion of young researchers are our POLMAR graduate school, which offers our doctoral students a comprehensive training and further education program as well as numerous consulting and support services for doctoral studies, and the PROCEED postdoctoral office, with which we support career paths in both directions, both in a top-class scientific career and in very successful careers outside of science. With regard to the extension and removal of the term of employment contracts, especially in the scientific field, we are continuously developing our systematic procedure for tenure track positions, among other things. In addition, our status quo is regularly monitored and compared with strategic goals and reported to the AWI committees.

In general, diversity and equal opportunities are defining elements of our self-image. We are therefore committed to reconciling work and family life. Since 2005, AWI has held the "Career and Family" certificate, maintains its own crèche and provides numerous support services for its employees in this area. Furthermore, we promote the health of our staff and strive for a culture of trust and recognition based on friendly interaction and mutual respect. We support our international employees with offers to acquire language skills and, where possible and necessary, exchange information in the scientific language of English. No one should be disadvantaged in the workplace because of their origin, gender identification or religion.


Workplace Environment

A healthy, safe workplace is an essential element of our sustainability strategy. This includes high standards in occupational safety, including the handling of chemicals and other materials, but also the creation of the best possible conditions for sustainable research, such as good handling of samples, equipment and facilities. The Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) staff unit supports the Board of Directors in fulfilling its responsibility for the safety and health of AWI employees. It also advises on issues of occupational safety, health and fire protection as well as accident prevention.


Provision of buildings and research platforms

The planning of the further development of properties and existing buildings, as well as the preparation of new construction, extension and modernisation measures for buildings and structural facilities, provides the basis for a demand-oriented and sustainable provision of required space, infrastructure and resources. It ranges from master and demand planning to implementation planning. The structural design influences the quality of the built environment, the surrounding environment as well as the acceptance of construction measures.

Research in maritime and polar systems also requires a robust and efficient infrastructure. The AWI strives to minimise any harmful effects on the environment and health caused by operations. During the planning, construction, operation, repair, maintenance and dismantling of buildings and research platforms, including the associated technical equipment and outdoor facilities, the ecological, economic, social, functional and technical aspects are assessed.

Where economically justifiable, we prefer the most environmentally friendly option when making investment decisions, taking into account additional social aspects. When considering the profitability of investments, the relationship between investment and operating costs in the form of life cycle analyses should always be taken into account.

We make optimum use of our buildings and research platforms during their useful life. To achieve this, strategic planning of investments, flexible use and high operational reliability of the technical facilities must be guaranteed.


Digital Infrastructure

The provision of IT infrastructure for computers and digital media, including research data, helps to ensure that sustainability goals from other areas can be met. This includes the provision and support of communication and collaboration technology as well as complex database applications or mechanisms for data backup and the provision of information. The AWI has a special responsibility to optimize the use of resources, especially with regard to the energy-intensive operation of high-performance computers.

The protection of research data and communication services against loss, failure and attacks is a defined goal of the AWI. The secure and resource-efficient operation of numerous IT services is guaranteed by virtualisation concepts and redundant system design. A long-term and thus sustainable usability of research data is ensured.

In addition, the library enables access to publications and provides information on developments in the field of scientific publishing.


Mobility and Transport

The AWI moves many people from place to place through business trips and expeditions. In addition, many employees from the region commute daily to their workplace at the AWI.

We have made it our task to keep environmental pollution as low as possible in the course of sustainable mobility, but also in the area of transport handling. This includes not only the encouragement of low-emission individual transport and public transport use, but also offsetting the CO2 footprint of flights.

Novel sustainable mobility concepts should be tested for their technical, organisational and economic feasibility and used wherever possible. Similarly, technical developments that could lead to a reduction in business travel, for example, are to be offered and used.



The AWI is a relevant player in the demand for services and goods. With our demand potential, we want to contribute to improving the supply of sustainable goods and services.

The legal situation makes it possible to consider not only economic efficiency in all phases of the award procedure, but also social and environmental aspects (e.g. life cycle costs, environmental certification, compliance with social standards, etc.) and to establish and demand them throughout the entire value chain in the procurement process. To this end, we communicate the objectives pursued by the AWI to suppliers by means of the performance description and the suitability and evaluation criteria.


Objectives, framework conditions and control mechanisms

In terms of sustainability, we want to implement strategies for a continuous improvement process throughout in order to improve AWI's performance in this field beyond the legal requirements. As far as possible, the developments and successes in terms of sustainability should be made measurable. In addition, orientation should be based on current standards and management systems.

To provide information on sustainability issues, the AWI operates permanent, clearly visible, preferably electronic information channels. For the implementation of this sustainability guideline, employees in all relevant areas receive support from the relevant specialist departments. In addition, opportunities are opened up to participate in appropriate further training courses and networking events.

The performance of the AWI with regard to its sustainability aspects is to be communicated clearly to relevant stakeholders (employees, partners in science and business as well as interested members of the public) at regular intervals. To this end, we will regularly offer internal information events and visibly complement our reporting system with aspects of sustainability.



As of June 12 2019


1 IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPBES - Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services OSPAR - Oslo-Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic

4 HELCOM - Helsinki Commission Baltic Sea Action Plan

5 SCAR - Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research