We live in an age of constant, rapid change. A person born in the early twentieth century would be overwhelmed by the complexities of modern-day life. Electric motors, the Internet, computers, jet aircraft, and robots are among the many side effects that have accompanied this evolution. While we experience many of these developments as passive observers, others are planned and promoted purposefully by individuals and societies. These developments are referred to as ‘transformations’.

The alignment of our various ways of life with the principles of sustainable development will play a vital role in shaping the future of humanity. This transformation encompasses the development of ethically responsible economic and societal systems that are sustainable in their economic and environmental dimensions and will not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The protection of the environment and the climate, the preservation of the natural and material resources that ensure an efficient supply of goods and services to all, and a peaceful society with an equitable social system informed by the principle of the public good are important objectives within this vision of sustainable development.

What does the IASS stand for?

The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) is committed to advancing these goals. The institute has set itself the task of supporting transformations towards sustainability through its research activities. On the one hand, it generates knowledge on the prerequisites for a sustainable way of life that informs political decision-making (expertise). On the other, it identifies factors that are crucial to the success of political processes aimed at achieving a sustainable society (process knowledge).

For example, the institute’s research on air pollution generates expertise that supports the development and implementation of air quality programmes – and the promotion of healthy, sustainable lifestyles – by policymakers and the private sector in cooperation with researchers. At the same time, a research team at the IASS is drawing on and refining process knowledge to develop new political processes that will ensure that the living conditions of future generations are sufficiently taken into account in contemporary decision-making.

What topics and questions does the IASS work on?

The research projects conducted at the IASS contribute to key national and international sustainability agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, and government policies to advance the energy transition in Germany. The targets contained in these agreements are critically assessed with the aim of identifying trade-offs and inconsistencies and developing potential solutions in cooperation with other actors.

Researchers at the IASS are, for example, working on prospective solutions to advance the energy transition. The focus of this work lies on the development of actionable policy options that give equal consideration to ecological, economic, legal, and social impacts and minimise potential negative side effects. And in the area of marine conservation, IASS researchers are assisting intergovernmental bodies with much-needed scientific expertise to support the development of international agreements to protect the world's oceans from pollution and overfishing.

These examples of our work illustrate the institute’s commitment to both analysing and actively contributing to processes of societal transformation in research projects that engage with stakeholders across science, policymaking, administration, civil society and the business sector. IASS activities are guided by two central questions:

  •  What are the conditions for successful sustainability transformations?
  •  How can and should transformation processes be designed and supported in order to be successful?

Research conducted by the IASS addresses diverse sustainability fields. The institute's work is currently focused on energy transitions; climate protection; air quality; governance frameworks for oceans and the Arctic region; global risk governance; new democratic decision-making processes that involve affected populations; and the role of narratives and lifestyles in the context of the need for individuals to align their behaviour with the principles of sustainability. 

How does the IASS conduct its research?

As well as providing a supportive environment for all those who wish to shape our future, the IASS is itself actively engaged in this process. It brings together different parties and applies its expertise and process knowledge to advance transformations effectively and for the good of all. Far from lecturing from ivory towers, our researchers provide hands-on support to policymakers, representatives of the business world, and civil society actors to ensure that decision-making and implementation processes lead to the successful adoption of sustainable development pathways. Only then do we and future generations have a hope of a good life in a world worth living in.