Forest behind the institute buildings.
Forest behind the institute buildings. © Samui Siltanen

Sustainability is an important guiding factor for the operations of the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach. The institute commits to the Sustainability Mission Statement of the Leibniz-Association and strives for sustainability in all processes of its business, in particular with regard to


Organizational Development

The MFO enshrines the guiding principle of sustainable development in all structures, procedures and management processes within the institute. In doing so, we also refer to the boards evaluating and advising the institute about the the longterm development, namely the Scientific Advisory Board and the Administrative Council. The further development of the institute and its scientific programs are carried out in close coordination with these two organs, always focussing on the institute's central aims, i.e.

  • the promotion of research in mathematics,
  • the intensification of scientific collaboration,
  • the intensification of education and training in mathematics and related areas,
  • the promotion of young scientists.

For the goal-oriented development we consider it also essential to keep an eye on the needs of research mathematicians. In order to keep track we provide multiple feedback mechanisms for our guests, including the Director’s interview talks with the organizers each week as well as discussions with participants of the longterm programs. There is also a book of wishes in printed form as well as electronic on the website. Electronic surveys are used to support, accompany and evaluate significant changes at the institute (e.g. the modernization of the information and communication infrastructure in 2016 and the adaptation of scientific programs to the circumstances during the sars-cov-2 pandemic in 2020/2021).

Research Processes

Doing sustainable research has a twofold meaning. On the one hand, sustainability can designate the research subject or the research goal. On the other hand, sustainability in research can also mean that (and how) research processes and research results have a lasting effect. It is this second meaning that is in particular revelant for the field of mathematics and the MFO. Of course, this view of sustainability touches on many different aspects.

First of all, the guidelines of good scientific practice, to which the MFO is committed, are fundamental. The integrity of science is the foundation of trustworthiness of science and for research in social responsibility. The multilayered quality control by Scientific Committee, Scientific Advisory Board, director, vice director and program organizers ensures that participation in MFO programs is fair, transparent and based on scientific quality.

Another important aspect is the systematic and quality-assured documentation of results and their accessibility for the long term. Mathematical results have no expiration date - in this regard mathematics is unique among the sciences. What has been proven centuries ago is still of importance for mathematical research today and even small bits and pieces which are studied nowadays may be highly relevant for researchers in another 1000 years. Moreover, sustainable documentation, publication and accessibility of research result enhances the efficiency of current international and interdisciplinary cooperation and helps to accelerate research innovations and to increase verifiability. The library in Oberwolfach contributes significantly on this topic. Its task is to acquire and to provide specialist literature from all fields of mathematics and its neighboring areas as completely as possible. A clear focus is on the long term accessibility of the literature. Special services and projects, like the Oberwolfach Digital Archive or the planning of the Oberwolfach Leibniz Archive for Mathematics together with the TIB Hannover emphasize this policy. We would also like to refer to our continuing efforts for the open access publication of results from our own scientific programs.

Sustainable research also includes looking at the next generation of researchers and to promote young talents. Therefore, the MFO offers dedicated programs and grants to junior researchers and supports them in building new relationships and networks.

Personnel Management

The success of the MFO highly depends on its ability to attract excellent staff at all levels, to keep them for the long term, to deploy them well in useful ways and to develop them in a targeted manner. Due to the remote location of the institute in a very rural area sustainable personnel management might be even more important than for large academic employers in university cities. Careful planning of recruitment and personnel development in line with medium and long-term organizational development goals is essential. 

An important measure of the MFO's sustainable personnel management strategy are training activities for its staff members. All employees are allowed and encouraged to regularly participate in professional trainings. Whenever possible, the MFO bears the costs of the training activities.

To attract young talents the MFO offers vocational training for housekeepers and for professionals in media and information services. Internships are possible as well.

The institute's efforts for equality, diversity and inclusion (e.g. the possibilities to balance work and care responsibilities) are further important measures to attract and keep highly qualified and motivated staff in all areas.

Operation of buildings and infrastructure, procurement and transport

The MFO is located in a rural area in the north of the Black Forest. It is built on a hill outside the village of Oberwolfach and surrounded by woods. The beautiful and calm environment is highly appreciated by our guests and one of the key assets of the institute. We literally can say: Our environment is (part of) our capital. Therefore, sustainable operation of buildings and infrastucture as well as sustainable procurement and transport are an integral part of our management.

Sustainable architecture, careful planning of new buildings and sensible use and renovation of existing buildings and infrastructure are key elements of our strategy. For example, when in 2007 the library of the MFO was expanded, the extension was built into the hill in such way, that its view naturally blends with the surrounding area. The very special building was even awarded an architecture prize. After the fundamental renovation processes of the guest house, the bungalows and the libary building in recent years, we aim at preserving the status of the buildings through regular renovation and maintenance measures.

The MFO is self-supporter in various fields and accordingly pays particular attention to a responsible use of resources. For instance, the institute receives drinking water from its own wells. The quality is regularly tested and the well pits are maintained. We run our own woodchip heating system, thus using a regrowing energy source from the region. A photovoltaic system has been installed at the roof of the library building. A battery-charging station for electric cars is available at the parking lot. The surrounding forests belonging to the institute are looked after and sustainably managed by the local forest department.

Also with regard to catering and accommodation we strive for sustainable practices. Food and beverages are delivered mostly from local or regional suppliers. Through careful planning we try to avoid waste. Whenever possible (and in line with necessary hygiene standards), our housekeeping staff uses ecologically beneficial cleaning and care products. 

In the administrative area we continue our efforts for digitization. Thus, less and less paper and printing ink have been needed in recent years.

In the library we try to save space and paper through cautious modernization and increasing subscription of electronic journals.