Sustainability in UZH operations

The University of Zurich has roughly 27,700 students and 9,500 employees. The University has approximately 22,000 rooms distributed throughout some 200 buildings. These numbers alone show the importance of carefully using energy and other resources for heating, commuting, business trips, cafeterias, lighting, computers, and other work and study-related activities. The Sustainability Team aims to coordinate already existing projects at UZH and to develop new initiatives. Our overall goal: To work together with UZH staff and students to make university operations more and more sustainable and to contribute to UZH's commitment towards climate neutrality in 2030.

Detailed information (in German) can be found in the Sustainability Report.

Sustainability Report 2019/20: Environment and Ressources


Photovoltaic system at UZH, picture: Ursula Meisser
Photovoltaic system at UZH, picture: Ursula Meisser

One of the provisions of the Energy Guidelines of the University of Zurich is the continual reduction of environmental pollution through energy conservation and efficiency (Paragraph 2.1., UZH energy guidelines, in German).

In 2020, UZH consumed 124 GWh of energy for heating and electric power,  making UZH one of the top 20 energy consumers in the city of Zurich. A measure-based agreement between UZH and the Department for Waste, Water, Energy and Air of the Canton of Zurich aims to reduce UZH's energy consumption in the period 2018-2027. UZH was able to fulfil the agreed targets in 2018, 2019 and 2020; among other things, through the installation of PV systems, conversion of lighting to LED and energy efficiency measures in the area of heat supply.

Energy demand of the infrastructure by energy source 2020
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Energy demand of the infrastructure by energy source 2020,
graphic: Melanie Lindner
Energy demand of the infrastructure by energy source, 2010-2020
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Energy demand of the infrastructure by energy source 2010-2020

Solar power

Electricity from solar power has been generated on some of UZH’s rooftops since 1990. Even if self-generation through photovoltaic systems is still hardly significant in terms of total demand, there has been a clear increase. While in 2010 almost no PV systems were installed on the roofs of the UZH, in 2020 a total of 0.15 GWh was produced with seven own systems. In the long term, 10 percent of the electricity demand is to be covered by own production from solar energy.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Through the purchase of energy and other goods and services, UZH causes direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions, measured in CO2 equivalents, CO2e). 

Since UZH obtains its electricity from hydropower and increasingly covers its heating needs with district heating, energy-related GHG emissions are at a consistently low level and have decreased significantly compared to 2010.

Absolute GHG emissions
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Absolute GHG emissions of the energy demand in scope 1, 2 and 3,
GHG emissions by causation category
Greenhouse gas emissions by cause category (in tonnes CO2e),
graphic: Melanie Lindner

Scope 1 = direct GHG emissions
Scope 2 = indirect GHG emissions through the purchase of energy
Scope 3 = other indirect GHG emissions through the purchase of consumer and capital goods or services

The comparison of the selected cause categories shows that air travel undertaken by UZH employees caused the most GHG emissions in 2018 and 2019 (2020: rank 2), followed by electricity and heat (2020: rank 1), commuting (2020: rank 3), provision of canteen meals (2020: rank 5), production and disposal of IT hardware (2020: rank 4), vehicle fleet (2020: rank 6) and production of paper (2020: rank 7).


Air travel

GHG air travel
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Development of flight-related GHG emissions 2018-2020 in tonnes CO2e,
graphic: Melanie Lindner

For the years 2018-2020, the data of total air travel for which UZH paid at least 50 percent of the costs was collected for the first time. These are mainly flights from UZH employees and guests.

Air travel caused around 6545 tonnes of CO2e in 2018, around 7587 tonnes of CO2e in 2019 and around 1670 tonnes of CO2e in 2020. This corresponds to 37 percent (2019) or 16 percent (2020) of UZH's total GHG emissions. It was found that long-haul flights accounted for around 84 per cent (2019) and 89 per cent (2020) of GHG emissions from all flights, and only 6 and 8 per cent (2019 and 2020) business flights were responsible for around 19 and 23 per cent of emissions respectively. In 2020, emissions from air travel were 76 per cent lower compared to the 2018/2019 average due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Factsheet Business Travel (PDF, 364 KB)

Commuter traffic

The choice of transportation for commuting to the university is an important factor in the University’s energy consumption and CO2e emissions. For this reason, the UZH energy guidelines strongly advise students and employees to use public transport for commuting. 

Factsheet Commuter Traffic (PDF, 407 KB)

Car fleet

Car fleet
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Fuel consumption of UZH's car fleet, graphic: Melanie Lindner

This includes the fuel from UZH's "Betriebsdienste", Animal Hospital, Botanical Garden and the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, Department for Material and Logistics and the Department Safety and Environment.

If vehicles of the fleet of the UZH infrastructure department need to be replaced, UZH will since June 2016 purchase only electric or plug-in-hybrid vehicles instead of vehicles with combustion engines. Exceptions exist for specialty vehicles. 

Procurement strategy for vehicles of the UZH infrastructure department (PDF, 82 KB) (in German)

Electronic car fleet at UZH
Electronic car fleet at UZH, picture: Ursula Meisser

Office Supply


Since fall 2018, UZH has a one-paper-strategy: UZH offers only one type of copy paper in its material and office supply store (Irchel Shop) and recommends its employees to use this paper. The selected paper (Refutura) consists of 100% recycling paper and fulfils the strict requirements of the environmental label «Blauer Engel». This paper is far more environmentally friendly than fresh fibre paper: The production of fresh fibre paper causes more than 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of the paper of the one-paper-strategy (Refutura).

Life cycle assessment of different paper types

Development of paper consumption
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Development of paper consumption, 2018 and 2020

Office Supplies Exchange

Since fall 2018 a new sharing platform for office supplies exists at UZH. Instead of disposing unused office material such as folders or envelopes, UZH employees can pass this on for free to other employees. Employees can either pick up the material themselves or have it delivered via internal mail.

Office Supplies Exchange

Equipment Exchange and Shared Equipment

UZH operates an equipment exchange to promote the utilization of equipment that would otherwise stand idle. Various types of equipment (complex microscopes, FACS, rtPCR, rooms, etc.) qualify for shared use by different centers, facilities, and research groups. The various users can book these items using the Shared Equipment Booking System.

Equipment Exchange 
Shared Equipment
Further information on sustainable procurement



The environmental impact of various foodstuffs differs greatly, as do the social factors related to their production, transportation, and processing.

Factsheet Food in University Life (PDF, 488 KB)


Sustainability issues are being considered in the University's catering establishments. In 2019, 1'146'015 menues were sold. Existing initiatives include the following:

  • The coffee, sugar, bananas, and fruit juices in the cafeterias are all fair-trade (Max Havelaar) certified.
  • Regional suppliers are used wherever possible to shorten transportation distances. Pork, beef, veal, and chicken are all sourced in Switzerland.
  • The Menu Sustainability Index shows consumers the environmental impact for each menu.
  • The vegan offer has been expanded in recent years with the vegan cafeteria Rämi 59 and a daily vegan menu in the canteen UZH Zentrum.

Menu Sustainability Index
Rämi 59
Catering philosophy of the ZFV

Proportion of meat and fish-based, vegetarian and vegan menus
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Proportion of meat and fish-based, vegetarian and vegan menus,
graphic: Melanie Lindner
Development of GHG emissions due to meals (menus only), 2017-2020
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Development of GHG emissions due to meals at UZH canteens (menus only), 2017-2020

Food waste

Amount of food waste at UZH canteens and cafeterias per week, 2015-2020

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Food waste at UZH canteens and cafeterias per week, 2015-2020

Globally, more than one third of all food produced ends up as food waste. UZH student Jasmin Küng analyzed in her master thesis the amount of plate waste at one of the canteens at UZH. On average, the food waste per plate amounted to 23g. She identified the reasons for this food waste as well as potential measures to reduce it. According to her results, about 3.4t of food could be saved per year at the canteen under study, provided that adequate measures were to be implemented.

Master thesis by Jasmin Küng: Identifying and evaluating plate waste reduction potential at a Swiss university canteen (PDF, 620 KB)

Waste reduction in canteens and cafeterias

In order to reduce the consumption of disposable tableware, the reCircle reusable system was introduced across the university in 2019; this eliminates the need for disposable containers. For a deposit, guests receive a reCircle reusable container for their take-away menu.

The renovation of the cafeteria "Platte 14" was used to implement a zero-waste concept for the reopening in 2019, which nevertheless still allows the dishes to be taken away. Dishes will be sold in reusable containers such as reCircle containers or jars. The concept shall in the future be extended to the canteens and cafeterias at the Centre for Dental Medicine in 2020, Tierspital, Rämi 59 and the Rämistrasse cafeteria.

Sustainable Catering

At UZH, refreshments take place regularly. In order to make it as easy as possible for the organiser to offer sustainable refreshments, UZH has developed together with ETH Zurich a guideline for sustainable catering. The guideline was accepted in March 2017 by the Executive Board of the University. 

You can send the questionnaire, which is included in the appendix, to catering suppliers in order to compare the different offers in terms of sustainability. The Sustainability Team collects the responses and is happy to send you already filled in questionnaires. In order to allow the archiving of responses, please send new responses to

Guideline Sustainable Catering (PDF, 278 KB)
Appendix to the Guideline Sustainable Catering - consideration of sustainability criteria (PDF, 284 KB) (to be completed by the caterer)

Sustainable Investments

In March 2017, the Executive Board of the University adopted recommendations for action with regard to sustainable investments. The recommendations are directed towards persons who represent the UZH in foundation boards or administrative boards. The UZH representatives are expected to start discussions about the consideration of ethical values in investments. If the activities of a company contradict the values of UZH, it is recommended that the representative suggests to the board either to engage with the respective company about this negative activity or to start a discussion about divesting from the respective company. This shall ensure in the long term that investments made by or for UZH reflect the ethical values of UZH.

The values identified in the recommendations for action are:

  • Protection of human rights,
  • maintaining the basis of our existence (including avoiding investments in fossil fuel companies),
  • compliance with core labour standards of the International Labour Organization,
  • avoiding investments in internationally banned weapons, and
  • avoiding toxic financial products.

Recommendations for action with regard to sustainable investments (PDF, 164 KB) (in German)