Introduction| Implementation| Actions and Tools| Education| Research| Budget and Governance
Synthetic activity report

Interdisciplinary Centre for Sustainability


Human activities are the main driving force behind the transformation of our environment. These changes could destabilise how the Earth system functions and put us in a zone of high risk where the conditions in which our societies have been able to develop may not be guaranteed: with an increased risk of natural disasters, threats to food safety and hygiene, a rise in the incidence of infectious diseases, significant economic losses, etc.

If we want to stay in a safe zone, the impacts of our activities must respect the ecological ceiling defined by the planetary boundaries. These boundaries are the established disturbance thresholds of the natural processes on which the stability of the Earth system is founded. Of the nine boundaries under consideration, at least four of them have already been exceeded.

In addition to this ecological ceiling which must not be exceeded, there is a social foundation which is made up of the fundamental needs and minimum well-being factors which would allow everyone to live reasonable lives. These two limits, the planetary ceiling and social foundation, define the doughnut-shaped safe and just space within which human activities should be confined.

Doughnut Economics

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Raworth 2012

A strong vision of sustainability, as illustrated by the Doughnut, requiring human activity to remain within the planet’s ecological boundaries, whilst also ensuring the fundamental needs and well-being of everyone by encouraging an equilibrium at all levels. Evaluations of sustainability must involve the correlation of the environmental, social and economic factors which will allow us to achieve this objective.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Sustainability applies a systemic and transdisciplinary approach to the challenge of living well whilst also respecting the planetary boundaries.

It promotes a strong vision of sustainability and supports the creation of projects which will respond to social and environmental sustainability issues in close collaboration with the civil society.



The creation of the CID is a direct result of the Lausanne University’s (UNIL) objectives for the 2017-2021 period, which aim to develop interdisciplinarity and position the establishment on the vanguard of sustainability.

A working group was put in place at the end of 2018, with the mission of transforming these objectives into reality. The result of this work was the creation of the CID with the following objectives.

Strengthen the education of sustainability such that no student leaves the UNIL without a clear understanding of the foundations of sustainability.
Stimulate interdisciplinary sustainability research in all of the UNIL’s 7 faculties.
Work to tighten up exchanges on the subject of sustainability between the academic world and civil society.

After completing a workshop to identify the subjects which the centre would have to address, the CID was officially launched on 30 April 2019 in the presence of more than 500 guests.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Sustainability (CID) Workshop-UNIL


During the first two years after the launch of the CID, it concentrated on responding to the vast number of applications it had received from researchers and field operators. It also developed projects covering the following subjects:

At the same time, the CID set up an interdisciplinary team of professionals with a wide variety of profiles able to offer a systemic vision of sustainability issues, whilst maintaining contact with both academic research and field operation preoccupations and knowledge. This “generalist expertise” encourages a thorough comprehension of the possible inter-relations and exchanges between different disciplines and areas of expertise within interdisciplinary projects. The CID team assists in defining issues, co-constructing and co-producing projects dealing with sustainability objectives and constraints.

Finally, the CID has defined a working position oriented on coherence between scientific knowledge and the actions implemented within the Centre.

It stimulates experimentation within its projects and is prepared to take risks. It promotes collaboration rather than competition between researchers or in its relations with other internal or external UNIL partners.

Launch of the interdisciplinary sustainability centre
“It is important to believe in what we know, to have the courage to undertake the urgent and major actions required by the gravity of environmental issues”

Danielle Chaperon, arts faculty professor, UNIL


The objective of the CID is to support and reinforce teaching on the subject of sustainability, stimulate interdisciplinary research and collaborations with the civil society. These objectives can be defined through 5 actions, which become tools in operational terms.


One of the main objective of the CID is to increase the visibility of sustainability related UNIL research and researchers. This involves:

The establishment of a complete listing of all researchers, theses, publications, projects and courses that cover sustainability.
The creation of written and video content to increase the visibility of research and educational work.
Communicate with a large CID community, notably including researchers, administrations, businesses, organisations and citizens.

The number of UNIL researchers who worked on issues involving sustainability in 2020


The CID’s second action aims to unite all researchers, teaching staff, students and social figures around the subject of sustainability. To achieve this, it will organise:

Events for the CID community and/or the general public

Events on the subject of sustainability aimed at the research community.

A thinktank network covering education, research and the society’s relation with sustainability in the higher education establishments, specifically through the Higher Education Summit 2020 or participation in the EUnivercities network

3 annual events are planned:

A meet up

Where researchers will have the chance to present their research and exchange amongst themselves

A debate

Organised around considerations concerning sustainability research

An invitation

Allowing a well-known speaker to come and talk about their work


The CID also has the objective of promoting the exchange of knowledge. To achieve this, it:

Encourages exchanges between the UNIL faculties, the University and the general public (contact with the media, scientific findings presented to the general public or field operators in an understandable way, projects with administrations and private sector organisations, education and scientific mediation)
Allow field operators to communicate their needs and knowledge they have gathered on sustainability to UNIL researchers (presentations and talks to researchers, field operator partner involvement in research projects)


An observatory is a tool which can identify a community of researchers and community organisations working on specific subjects and then use events to federate these individuals and mobilise them around transdisciplinary projects and facilitate the transfer of knowledge through education and publications. The CID is convinced of the value of this type of tool and has implemented the Biodiversity Observatory in association with the SCMS and is supporting the development of the bicycle and active mobility university observatory (OUVEMA). It will soon be launching an observatory covering the links between public health and sustainability as well as between narratives/fantasies and sustainability.


The objective of the CID’s fourth action is to provide support for education, interdisciplinary research and relations with the general public on the subject of sustainability. Consequently it provides the following, subject to the needs of the various involved parties:


Finally, the CID also aims to stimulate transdisciplinary research covering sustainability issues. A number of tools have been put in place for this. Including:

The “Day After” program:

During the first wave of the COVID pandemic, the CID set up a program to develop collaborative projects between researchers and the civil society. After first completing a general overview on the relations between Covid-19 and sustainability, 6 projects are now under development on the subjects of sobriety, creative productions, relations between the science and the political decision making, participative government and climate plans.



The CID has completed an analysis of the current situation at UNIL regarding the teaching of sustainability; this was based on a complete listing of all of the courses that cover the subject and interviews with students.


The number of educational programs that cover sustainability

The student survey (2,771 responses) showed that a large majority of them were deeply concerned by environmental issues and had high expectations regarding the sustainability-related courses proposed by all of the faculties.

The CID is developing a sustainability education strategy for the UNIL which will be the subject of an upcoming workshop with the teaching staff.

Development of new interfaculty sustainability courses
Support for the integration of sustainability related themes into existing courses
Development of improved communication on the available courses


Various concerned parties from the financial or administrative sectors have clearly stated their interest in attending generalist training programs covering sustainability. To this end, the CID is working on the implementation of a 3-day professional training program that will cover both sustainability issues and the development of management skills able to cope with them.



Sustainability implies behavioural changes that information alone will not be able to incite. So working on narratives and fantasies will become even more necessary since our ability to create and believe in a collective fiction will become essential to the foundation of society and the existence of human cooperation on a broad scale. Unfortunately such sustainable narratives and fantasies are rare. In the context of this need to renew narratives and fantasies, the CID is encouraging around twenty researchers from all of the UNIL faculties to:

Understand and document all current narratives covering the subject of sustainability
Work on the production of new narratives
Collaborate with those, artists in particular, who create and produce narratives and fantasies
Contribute to the integration of narratives and fantasies into sustainability strategies

This program aims to explore sustainable futures through a series of collaborations with 14 young citizens. The first cycle (2019-2020) was completed with the help of the Vidy-Lausanne Theatre, the Zoein Foundation, the UNIL communications department (Unicom) and the cultural and scientific mediation department (SCMS) and under the auspices of Dominique Bourg who is an honorary UNIL professor. The second cycle (2020-2021) is currently under-way with Vinciane Despret who is a professor at the University of Liège in Belgium.


Today a large number of medical organisations are sounding the alarm as they are confronted by major threats to the health of global populations which are the direct result of environmental issues and they are trying hard to underline the importance of recognising these threats as major healthcare issues.

Strengthening the visibility of the link between exceeding planetary boundaries and healthcare issues could contribute to making environmental issues more real and therefore encourage behavioural changes in society and structural transformations within government establishments.

The CID is therefore getting involved in a number of diverse interdisciplinary projects covering the relations between healthcare and sustainability through:

The co-production of an exploratory literary journal in collaboration with the Unisanté Family Medicine Department which was published in the Swiss Medical Review (see below)
The coordination, support and co-production of an FNS (Sinergia) interdisciplinary research project on the concept of Planetary Health and its implications for healthcare practice in Switzerland
The organisation of a symposium under the title “Towards environmentally friendly healthcare services”, in partnership with Unisanté, the Swiss Academy of Medical Science (ASSM) and the Swiss Medical Review (RMS)
Participation in the 4th Swiss Romandie Medical Conference (Medicine, healthcare and environment - 12 November 2020)
4th Swiss Romandie Medical Conference

The term ‘co-benefit” refers to the direct benefits for human health that result from actions that aim to reduce our environmental footprint, or inversely, the environment preserving benefits of a healthcare policy measure. This term illustrates the close links that exist between healthcare issues and sustainability.

With this literary journal for healthcare professionals we will be presenting items taken from scientific publications related to major sustainability issues, notably regarding the food industry, mobility and biodiversity, and we will cross-reference these views with the growing healthcare issues of western society.


Climate strategies or climate plans are localised programs for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the adaptation to the consequences of climate change.

The CID has been called on by a number of Swiss Romandie administrations (the Cantons of Geneva, Vaud, the Geneva urban spread and the City of Lausanne) to establish their climate strategies:

• Scientific support in the establishment of climate plans
• Interventions and conferences covering the climate situation and the goals to be achieved
• Establishment of potential carbon neutral scenarios
• Participation in scientific committees (Valais and EPFL climate plan)
Support for the implementation of the Climact platform (UNIL EPFL climate expertise centre)

As part of the climate plan revision process, four potential scenarios have been established with support from a group of twelve experts from the UNIL faculties and a panel of experts representing the key government policies concerned. These scenarios are based on a set of more or less ambitious measures and differing international contexts and will be useful for getting a hold on the changes that are implied by carbon neutrality, and will facilitate understanding of the measures that will be necessary to get there.


In collaboration with the interdisciplinary ethics research centre, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Sustainability organises work on the relations between research and civic or political commitment.
As part of this, the CID has set up a working group and undertaken a survey of the UNIL community. Focus groups will also be organised.

What role can researchers have in public debate?

In parallel to these considerations the CID is coordinating and financing a project on the role of science in political decision making as part of its “The Day After” program. This project will involve an event which will allow the two communities (scientific and political) to get together and improve their mutual understanding of each other’s functions.


A huge drop in biodiversity has been observed all over the world. The causes for this are complex but include land-use changes, damage to natural habitats as well as the introduction of invasive species and diseases, the over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change and the pollution of ecosystems.

According to the IPBES, 25% of species are now under the threat of extinction. The massive erosion of biodiversity is compromising nature’s capacity to provide the ecosystemic services on which life, especially human life, depends in order to stay healthy. For example, these services include the provision of food, energy and climate regulation.

In this context, the CID intends to:

Support the development of networks of interdisciplinary researchers whose work covers biodiversity. More specifically it has supported the implementation of a convention between the UNIL and the UICN (International Union for Nature Conservation).
Stimulate the development of transdisciplinary biodiversity projects. The CID has coordinated the submission of a project concerning the evaluation of ecosystemic services inside national parks run by the OFEV.

The UNIL has a campus with exceptional natural and landscape qualities, which therefore contain a great potential for scientific mediation and awareness campaigns in terms of nature conservation.

In order to make the most of this potential, the CID has set up the Biodiversity Observatory which includes biologists and ecologists (FBM and FGSE) as well as representatives of the campus site management (UNIBAT) and scientific mediators (SCMS).


Energy and ecology transitions will not happen without a transition towards low environmental impact mobility. In Switzerland, 38% of end user energy is consumed by transport, which means it is therefore responsible for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The promotion of “active” forms of mobility (cycling, walking) is now an important lever in the fight against climate change, the maintenance of natural resources and habitats and the reduction of atmospheric pollution. These forms of mobility also provide many other benefits in terms of public health and well-being for users and the population in general.

The inauguration of the OUVEMA brought together 100 people from both the academic world and the civil society.

The CID has therefore supported the launch of the University Observatory of Cycling and Active Mobility (the OUVEMA). This project seeks to create synergies between field operators and researchers: geographers, doctors, sociologists, environmentalists and psychologists as well as promote the emergence of research and educational projects.


As a result of the Volteface program (2014-2018) on the social aspects of energy transition, the UNIL has built up a significant expertise in the field. The CID has been called on to take on two mandates to continue the considerations raised by this project platform. Consequently it has participated:

In a survey for the implementation of an observatory of energy renovation and domestic behaviour for the canton of Vaud (2020)
In an analysis of training and educational needs concerning energy-related projects to be completed by the cantons.

This was a platform of 12 research-action projects covering the social aspects of energy transition. It ran from 2014 to 2018 under the auspices of the UNIL, Romande Energy and the Canton of Vaud.




It is evident that our economic model will have to be reconsidered if we do not want to compromise the planetary boundaries. Questions such as social justice, consumerism and power are all intrinsically linked and should be studied further to bring forth a new sustainable, circular and equitable system. The CID participated in the organisation and moderation of the opening night of the Global Entrepreneurship Week3 on 16 November 2020. This event was able to raise the subject of how businesses can contribute to sustainability issues.

The CID is involved in a number of Start-up juries, specifically for the UCreate platform organised by the UNIL’s Entrepreneurial and Innovation Hub.


Agriculture and the food industry

These are major sources of environmental damage all over the world and contribute to the fact that a number of the planetary boundaries have been exceeded. The agriculture and livestock industries are currently evaluated as being responsible for 20 to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land all over the world is the most significant cause of deforestation, the fragmentation of natural habitats and the loss of biodiversity. The CID co-organises events covering this theme, including the “agroecology” forum4.



The CID’s budget comes from two principal sources:

1. A reserved allocation from the UNIL direction limited to a maximum of CHF 330,000 per year for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

2. External funding associated with mandates or collaborations with government bodies.

Between 2019 and 2020 the expenditure of the CID was around CHF 520,000 - CHF 115,000 of which concerned mandates. The majority of expenditure covers the CID’s payroll.

FOR 2019 AND 2020



The CID is attached to the direction of the UNIL and reports to the vice-rectors: Benoit Frund (“Sustainability and Campus” dicastery), François Bussy (“Research” dicastery) and Giorgio Zanetti (“Education”).


The CID Council is made up of representatives of all of the UNIL faculties. For 2019 and 2020 its members were as follows:

Heidi Strebel(HEC - Business and Economics faculty. president)

Fabrizio Butera(SSP - Political and Social Sciences Faculty)

Nathalie Chèvre(FGSE - Geosciences and Environment Faculty)

Sophie Swaton(FGSE, in 2019)

Stéphane Nahrath(FDCA - Law, Criminal Justice and Public Administration Faculty)

Boris Vejdovsky(Arts Faculty)

Michel Chapuisat(FBM - Biology and Medicine Faculty)


The staff of the CID has been progressively built up since 2019, it is based on the interdisciplinarity and complementarity of its members. It currently includes:

Nelly Niwa
Dr in environmental sciences and architect-urbanist. CID Director

Augustin Fragnière
Dr in environmental sciences and political philosopher, project manager and assistant to the CID Director

Estefania Amer
Dr in environmental and economic sciences, CID project officer

Julia Gonzalez Holguera
Dr in geosciences and the environment, CID project officer

Sarah Koller
PhD student in environmental sciences, with diplomas in psychology and environmental sciences, CID project officer

Inès Burrus
PhD student in economics with diplomas in biology and natural resource management, CID project officer

Johann Recordon
Graduate of the Lausanne Catering School (EHL), master’s student in sustainability foundations and practices and CID research collaborator

Darious Ghavami
Graduate of the EHL and a master's degree in sustainability foundations and practices, CID research collaborator

Camille Gilloots
Environmental engineer, master’s student in sustainability foundations and practices and CID research collaborator

Romaine Rossier
Diploma in sustainable urbanism and CID research collaborator

The CID also has a team of student assistants who manage video supports (Enéa Cordoba and Timothée Steiner) and Vincent Guerra who is in charge of the biodiversity observatory readings.