Transdisciplinary sustainability research at the Oeko-Institut

Networked research geared to sustainable development – Transdisciplinary research which acts as a motor for sustainable innovations in our society – Transboundary research which initiates innovations for environmental and climate protection and resource conservation – Transformation research as a contribution to a knowledge-based society: these were the guiding principles not only for “Project Earth: Our Future” in Science Year 2012 but also for a new social contract on sustainability as called for by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). The United Nations adopted education for sustainable development as its theme for the decade between 2005 and 2014, and the issue has also been taken up by UNESCO, which launched Future Earth – a new 10-year international initiative to deliver sustainability and environmental research – ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD).

Transdisciplinary research at the Oeko-Institut

For more than 30 years, the Oeko-Institut has investigated the fundamental elements of a sustainable economy and lifestyle. Its scientists, who come from a range of disciplines, are working to build foundations, strategies, tools and practical applied solutions across a variety of thematic areas.

The scientists are organised in multidisciplinary working groups and interdisciplinary research teams. In their numerous projects, transdisciplinarity is not empty rhetoric – it is integral to scientific practice at the Oeko-Institut. In recent research projects such as Changing Behaviour, which investigates motivational strategies for energy efficiency, and the E-Waste Africa project, which is developing alternative ways of dealing with the problem of electronic waste in West Africa, economists are working together with sociologists, and engineers with lawyers, as well and also involve a range of civil society actors in their day-to-day work.

In addition, the researchers participate in networks in order to establish the scientific bases for more sustainability and provide policy-makers with recommendations on ways of making it a reality in the economy and society. An Oeko-Institut working group pulls the strands of sustainable transformation research together from a strategic perspective and is developing new methods and tools for practical application.

Ecornet and NaWis – networks strengthen sustainability research

The Oeko-Institut has been a member of the Ecological Research Network (Ecornet), comprising non-university, non-profit environmental and sustainability research institutes in Germany, since 2011. Together, the Ecornet member institutes are striving to establish the scientific foundations for society’s transformation towards sustainability.

The eight research institutes – the Ecologic Institute, the Heidelberg Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE), the Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT), the Oeko-Institut, the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues (UfU) and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy – conduct applied research across scientific disciplines in order to identify pathways towards a sustainable, non-fossil-fuel, non-nuclear society.

Further information on the Oeko-Institut’s involvement in Ecornet

The Alliance for Sustainable Science (NaWis) promotes transdisciplinary sustainability research in the German academic context. Established by the University of Kassel, Leuphana University Lüneburg and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, with the involvement of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies since 2012, it conducts research and fosters debate about climate and environmental challenges across scientific disciplines.

The Oeko-Institut supports the NaWis framework programme for the Science Year and participates in its discussions. The Oeko-Institut’s annual conference in 2012, which looked at ways of achieving the successful transformation of energy systems (only in German language), was part of the NaWis series of events.

Further information about the Alliance for Sustainable Science (NaWis) is available here – only in German language.

Transdisciplinary knowledge for a sustainable society: Memorandum for the Promotion of Socio-Ecological Research

Key actors in transdisciplinary sustainability research, including the Oeko-Institut, have produced a Memorandum on the promotion of socio-ecological research. Entitled “Understand – Assess – Shape: Transdisciplinary Knowledge for a Sustainable Society”, it seeks to ensure that socio-ecological research is consistently intensified and broadened over the coming years in terms of content, organisation and institutional participation.

The solution to global problems, such as climate change, environmental degradation and food security, requires radical transformations of our society. In order to be able to meet these new types of challenges, some of which concern the survival of humankind, we need new information about how the problems arise, what kind of solutions are appropriate, and how they should be implemented.

“Generating this knowledge and deepening it across disciplines has long been the goal of socio-ecological research,” says Dr Rainer Griesshammer, a member of the Oeko-Institut’s Executive Board. “More than 1000 people signed the Memorandum, which we presented to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in autumn 2012. Together, we are sending a signal for the continuation and intensification of this work for sustainable development.”

German states boost sustainability research

Various German states, such as Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, are also keen to boost their support for sustainability research. Baden-Württemberg’s Education Minister Theresia Bauer, for example, has set up an Expert Group on Science for Sustainability. Dr Bettina Brohmann, Research Coordinator for Transdisciplinary Studies at the Oeko-Institut, has been a member of the Expert Group since 2012. In June 2013, it issued recommendations on enhancing the role of sustainability in teaching, research and the university sector. In September 2013, a public event in Stuttgart on “Science for Sustainability – Real-World Laboratories as Testing Grounds for Transformation” attracted more than 150 participants.

Further information about the Expert Group and the Oeko-Institut’s involvement is available here – only in German language.