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Global CIVIS days 2020: digital event, real challenges, concrete ideas

18 November 2020
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The recordings of speeches, keynote address and round table talks can be viewed here.

Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 November 2020 saw the celebration of the first Global CIVIS days, CIVIS’s annual event where students, university staff, civil society, innovators and local representatives across Europe come together to connect, discuss and team up to find innovative solutions on major societal challenges.

For its first edition, the Global CIVIS days were centred on Green Education with a focus on green mobility, transdisciplinary education and digital transformation. The online event consisted of a 24hour student hackathon and a day-long conference. 

Over 530 participants registered to the online conference and 155 students composed of 40 teams from all eight CIVIS Universities participated in the hackathon.

The event was a genuine cornerstone for a successful collaboration between its university community and higher education organisations across Europe. The Global CIVIS Days 2020 had two main purposes: on the one hand, to create a sense of belonging to the CIVIS European University initiative and on the other hand, to foster collaboration and tackle societal challenges in climate, environment and energy, one of CIVIS’s five focus areas.

The Academic community and Universities in Europe play an instrumental role in sustainable development, Johan Kuylenstierna

As underpinned in the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Risk report, and for the first time in history, climate, environment and energy were central themes to the challenges the world will face in the near future. The European Commission also alerted of these risks and developed its Green deal to provide a policy response to complex and interlinked climate and environmental challenges.

Building an inclusive, sustainable and civically engaged European University, CIVIS saw an opportunity to address those challenges and opportunities by bringing together leading experts in the field and challenge students to find solutions for this global societal problem.

Education for a sustainable future: addressing the needs for problem-solving competences in Climate, Environment and Energy

The online conference: Education for a sustainable future, brought together researchers and academics from all eight CIVIS member universities and beyond with leading experts from UNESCO-MGIEP, Prof. Dr. Anantha Duraiappah, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Prof Linda Barman and Stockholm University, host of the event, Prof Georgia Destouni and Prof Kevin Noone.

It explored the challenges and opportunities Higher Education is facing today to address the World Economic Forum’s “wicked problems” and offered analyses and constructive ideas for solving these issues through sustainable innovation. 

The event consisted of a series of keynotes and roundtable talks to address most emerging topics in climate, environment and energy through transdisciplinary education and digital transformation with the aim to find solutions in developing the problem-solving competences the World Economic Forum feels the Higher Education sector lacks to solve those issues.

Hacking today for a sustainable tomorrow in Higher Education

During the Global CIVIS days, students were challenged to solve three problems by bringing bold and creative ideas during a 24h online hackathon on Green Erasmus, Green Campus and SDGs in Education.

  • Green Erasmus - rethink student mobility: how can I make my Erasmus+ exchange carbon neutral?
  • Green campus - reinvent the campus of tomorrow: how can university campuses reach carbon neutrality?
  • SDGs in Education - rewire education for a sustainable future: how can we use the SDGs to help guide more solution-oriented educational programmes?

All three challenges addressed the needs highlighted in the EU Green Deal for a low-carbon and sustainable future and were interlinked with CIVIS’s main goals to develop challenge-driven study programmes and take actions in climate change both at local and European level. Academics, researchers and project managers involved in CIVIS also participated in the event as mentors to guide and assist the students with their project ideas. 

32 teams reached the first round of evaluation with very interesting ideas such as a mobile app providing green tips to live in a university sustainable environment, sustainable festivals with interactive and immersive educational talks and an e-platform gathering all green projects which can be replicable to all university campuses. 

Out of those 32 projects, six teams were selected for the final round of the event (two in each challenge category) to pitch and defend their project idea in front of the grand jury. 

After deliberation, the jury awarded Ecooo and their search engine project: an e-platform that sorts out the modes of transport by CO2 emissions and gather sustainable solutions to make the student Erasmus+ exchange as green as possible.

Whilst we had to crown a winning team, all teams were saluted for their innovation-driven projects and out-of-the-box thinking, proving once again that pooling out students’ expertise is a force to reckon with.

Going forward, the 32 projects will be reviewed by the CIVIS Hub 1 Council on climate, environment and energy with the aim to be implemented within CIVIS. 

The final projects are accessible at the end of the article.


Green Erasmus challenge:

  • Team Ecooo: Anna, Milena, Giulia and Cristian from Sapienza University of Rome
  • Student Express: Mehak, Evelyn and Margot from Sapienza University of Rome

Green campus challenge:

  • team Eco-Logic: Andrea, Lucrezia, Sara and Valentina from Sapienza University 
  • team Asparagus: Alice and Michael from the University of Tübingen

SDGs in Education challenge:

  • team: Green is the new black: Valeriya and Alexandra from Sapienza University of Rome
  • team: Greener and ever: Iris, Maria and Sandra Estela from the University of Madrid

Members of the jury:

  • Prof. Mariane Domeizel, Vice-president for sustainable development, Aix-Marseille Université
  • Prof. Romita Iucu, President, Board of Trustees,  University of Bucharest
  • Dr. Frank Mattheis, Researcher at the Institute for European Studies, Université libre de Bruxelles
  • Prof. Mats Danielson, Senior advisor to the president on collaboration and IT, Stockholm University
  • Prof Frank Alasdair, Professor of Geochemistry and petrology, Chair of CIVIS HUB 1: Climate, Environment and Energy

The Global CIVIS days in a nutshell?

Students from various study backgrounds joining forces to come up with innovative solutions to current challenges, academics and university staff supporting them with their ideas, and experts and researchers sharing their knowledge and debating on most emerging topics through sustainable innovation showcased the “CIVIS feeling”, proving that together, we go further.

As Johan Kuylenstierna, Vice-chair of the Swedish Climate Policy Council at Stockholm University and moderator of the event affirmed: 

This collaboration demonstrates very well (...) that new borders are coming up and was a genuine tour de force in bringing together the entire CIVIS academic community to solve the wicked problems but also to harness opportunities offered by the EU Green Deal. The Academic community and Universities in Europe play an instrumental role in sustainable development. They are one of the foundations for a sustainable society and this has clearly been demonstrated here today.