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Sustainability transitions

The aim of our research

What are the opportunities for politics to understand, initiate, and support social transformation towards more sustainability? How can such opportunities be identified and how can success and failure of transformation efforts be measured and evaluated?

Sustainable development is an internationally endorsed goal that influences policies from a local to the global level. Its content, though, is diverse and often disputed – concepts and goals differ. Current sustainability concepts aim at guaranteed social standards worldwide (quality of life) as well as at environmentally sound lifestyles and production modes. To pursue intra- and intergenerational justice calls for the integration of traditionally segmented areas of politics.

Within the topic ‘sustainability transitions’ we research, how societal transitions towards sustainability can be analysed, organised and strengthened. Fields of application are ecosystem services, sustainable lifestyles, processes of local participation, e.g. when considering the role of energy cooperatives for the ‘Energiewende’ (energy turnaround). In a research project financed by Helmholtz we investigate the governance of the discharge of chemicals into waterbodies, currently focussing on pesticides.

Our research approaches and methods

We use different conceptual transdisciplinary approaches, thus aspiring to make our analysis and knowledge relevant for policy advice and societal interaction. Transition management is a currently influential approach aiming at strengthening sustainability transitions. A shortcoming of this approach is that it looks at individual actors only superficially, even though they are main change agents. Furthermore, it misses an explicit normative foundation that would enable us to evaluate the contribution to sustainability of concrete paths of transition. The capability- and the human-scale development approaches could cure these flaws to some degree, in particular when being supplemented by concepts from environmental psychology. Unfortunately, those approaches have the drawback that they use a very simplified model of societal structuration and differentiation. Approaches using practice theory are better able to understand the relationship between individuals, culture, and matter. Together with project partners we aim at researching and closing some of these conceptual gaps.


You will find an overview of the current and completed projects in this research field in our project list.


  • DRIFT, Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, Rotterdam
  • Ecologic, Berlin
  • ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
  • James-Hutton-Institute, Aberdeen
  • SERI –Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Wien,
  • TU Delft
  • Universität Oldenburg
  • Universität Lüneburg
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles