Interview with Johanna Leissner, Sustainability Expert and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Scientific Representative

Interview with Johanna Leissner, Sustainability Expert and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Scientific Representative

Johanna Leissner
As a member of the CHARTER Advisory Bord, Johanna Leissner hopes to contribute with her over 20 years of knowledge and experience about sustainability and climate change research to ensure that the future of the cultural heritage sector is sustainable.

In this interview we discuss the need to better understand the consequences on cultural heritage caused by the climate crisis. Johanna Leissner mentions that a big challenge for organisations wishing to become more sustainable is to bring the top-leaders, who quite often lack knowledge about sustainability issues, on board. She also points out that as trusted institutions and role models, cultural heritage organisations have an important role to play in leading the way and inspire people to be more sustainable.

How did your link with sustainability issues start?

I started with environmental monitoring so the way from environmental pollution to sustainability issues was consequentially logic.

Which is the state of art for climate change in relation to cultural heritage?

We already know quite a lot about climate change but there is still a need for better understanding of the consequences and impacts on the various types of cultural heritage. Furthermore, there is a need for better transfer of the knowledge from research into the heritage sector: working in close collaboration with climate scientists and in multidisciplinary teams has to be ensured and offered in training and education schemes.

Which future challenges is cultural heritage facing in terms of sustainability?

To implement the concept of sustainability, which is a reflective process, it has to be addressed at all levels in the heritage sector. Sustainability is the responsibility which needs to be taken into consideration by the top level. There is still a lack of knowledge and awareness among the top-level decision makers in the heritage sector.

Which cultural heritage skills should be prioritized in education today?

It is paramount to be able to work in inter- and multidisciplinary teams with different stakeholders and scientists.

What is the role of cultural institutions in minimising the effects of climate change?

Cultural institutions play an important role as they are considered to be role models and pioneers for society. This means they should lead by example and implement all available tools, methodologies, alternative energy sources, passive protections measures etc. The management of heritage should be guided by the sustainability concept.

What are your best tips for an institution that wishes to become more sustainable?

They should start to publish a sustainability report as many companies do. The process to collect all the necessary data for the report will bring together all relevant people within an organisation/institution and stimulate discussions on how sustainability can be incorporated from top down and bottom up.

How would you like to see CHARTER in relation to climate change?

CHARTER should help to raise awareness in the heritage sector and to design training courses about climate change and heritage

Amongst many things CHARTER focuses on digital skills – how do you think the digital shift and digitalisation can be carried out in a sustainable way?

Right now there is a big discussion going on about greening digitalisation and progress is underway. I think it is important to invest into digital skills and to address the energy issue at the same time. It depends on how we use digital technologies and which ones to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CHARTER is mapping occupational roles of the CH sector, how do you imagine that sustainability should be represented in different occupational roles?

I know from my own experience that this is a transformative, long process– sustainability must be taken up in all roles and positions. I have initiated within my organisation the establishment of a sustainability network. It took many years that the concept of sustainability was accepted by our hierarchy, but we succeeded. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft was the first research organisation that published a sustainability report. This endeavour has created a lot of synergies and motivated people to actively contribute also on personal level to become more sustainable. 

As a member of the CHARTER Advisory Board, what do you hope to contribute with?

I would like to contribute with my knowledge and experience of more than 15 years in dealing with sustainability and with my research about climate change. I would like to transmit how inspiring it is to be part of implementing sustainability and to raise awareness about climate change and the fact that we have to act now and not in future. Protecting our cultural memory from loss and damage for the wellbeing of our future generations.


Johanna Leissner

Trained as chemist in Germany and the USA, Johanna Leissner has been working in cultural heritage research in various EU and national projects for over 20 years with a focus on climate change, environmental pollution, environmental sensor development and sustainability issues like Green Museums.

She is chair of the EU OMC group “Strengthening cultural heritage resilience for climate change”, established in January 2021, and member of the EU expert group “Cultural Heritage Forum”, established in 2019. Currently coordinator of German research project KERES “Protecting cultural heritage from extreme climate events and increasing resilience”.

German delegate for the Council of Europe Strategy “European Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century” and of the UNESCO World Heritage Expert Group for climate change impacts on cultural heritage. Since 2005 scientific representative for Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft at the European Union in Brussels. Co-founder of the German Research Alliance for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in 2008 and of the Fraunhofer Sustainability Network. From 2001 to 2005, National Expert of the Federal Republic of Germany responsible for “Technologies for the Protection of the European Cultural Heritage” at the European Commission in Brussels.

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