Sustainable Products & Material Flows

The thematic priorities of the Sustainable Products & Material Flows Division are

  • Sustainable products and consumption,
  • Sustainable chemistry, materials and technologies,
  • Sustainable food systems and bio-based raw materials, and
  • International cooperation on circular economy and global value chains.

Our research and consultancy projects are geared to practical implementation, seeking to make the vision of sustainable develop­ment operational, both on national and international levels, for specific products and companies, sectors and “areas of need”, consumer practices and lifestyles, as well as for policy instruments and strategies. We provide scientific support to the development and introduction of new technologies, help companies develop innovative products, assess products and services, analyse the prerequisites for a sustainable transformation of production and consumption patterns and provide practical tools to support decisions for both consumers and procurers.

In the various policy areas, we provide advice on the practical implementation of European framework directives (such as REACH, RoHS, WEEE, ELV, Ecodesign and Energy label), on the refinement and alignment of (sustainability) labels and on the further development and implementation of sustainable public procurement practices. In international cooperation, problem solutions are developed and tested in practice under different socio-economic conditions in close collaboration with local partners. This involves the introduction of ecological standards and product labels as well as adapted solutions for issues relating to raw materials and waste management.

When analysing optimisation potential, the entire product life cycle is taken into account ‒ from raw material extraction, production and use to disposal. In addition to ecological aspects, the experts also examine interactions with social issues. A disciplinary and inter- / transdisciplinary set of methods forms the basis for the investigations. These include, for example, life cycle assessments (LCA) and greenhouse gas inventories for products and companies (product or corporate carbon footprint (PCF, CCF); product environmental footprints (PEF)), eco-efficiency and material flow analyses, assessments of the substitution potential of hazardous substances and qualitative analyses to evaluate environmental impacts that are difficult to quantify, such as ecosystem services or the loss of biodiversity. Our political and social science methodological expertise includes cost-benefit analyses, impact assessments, empirical research and policy analyses. Product Sustainability Assessment (PROSA) – a methodology developed by the Institute – provides strategic guidance for numerous projects.

Our team consists of more than twenty committed researchers representing a broad range of disciplines. Our clients include various Directorates-General of the European Commission, national ministries focussing on the environment (BMU) and research (BMBF), the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), private-sector companies and industry federations, environmental and consumer NGOs and foundations. On the international level, our main commissioning parties are the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the KfW Development Bank, the World Resources Forum (WRF), the Federal Ministry of the Environment, UNEP, and the United Nations University (UNU).