Affiliated with the Karl Mannheim Chair for Cultural Studies, supported by private and corporate donations, the European Center for Sustainability Research was established and formally launched on May 2nd 2011 during a festive signing ceremony in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Following the official launch the Research Center will take up its activities as a research institute, where the research fellows in an independent and interdisciplinary environment mainly define the Center’s research agenda and profile. It is our intention to take up Grassroots and Evergreens of fundamental sustainability research to address new and persistent challenges of sustainable development. In addition to scientific research the Center aims at contributing to a dynamic European and international scientific community in sustainability research by actively facilitating a strong network and regular events.
The concept of sustainability at the Center
The concept of sustainability of human life on a global scale has since the late eighties of the last century step by step become a widely acknowledged public topic, especially via its relevance in politics, economics, technology and science. In this modern as well as popular version, the concept of sustainability corresponds to the report "Our Common Future" of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED 1987) - better known as the Brundtland Report.
Today, the concept of sustainability incorporates more than just resource management, as the case in the beginning of the discussion of the notion of sustainability. Sustainable development is now defined following the much-quoted passage from the Brundtland Report as "development that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The political aim of the Brundtland Report was to develop policy strategies and recommendations for a hitherto non-existent, but needed integration of environment and development policy. The merit of the Brundtland Report, therefore, is that he drew attention to the issue of sustainable societal development .
Today, the concept of sustainability is understood in a broader sense. In the continuation and further development of the Brundtland Report, it is now emphasizes the problem situation in the principle of sustainability because sustainability is not just an environmental and developmental issue. Instead, the complexities of the problem situation are expressed in a comprehensive understanding of development, that is, sustainability is a “wicked problem.” Sustainability becomes a question of economic, demographic, political, cultural, technical, environmental, and not least moral development of societies.
Sustainability as an interpretive framework of modernity and as a guiding principle for future changes in human society is therefore more and more widely recognized and accepted across the globe. This also means that sustainability in the coming years and decades will emerge as one the "core businesses" of transnational organizations, nations, companies, capital markets, everyday life, technological innovation and of course politics and policies.
Simply declaring war on non-sustainable ways of living cannot solve the set of problems represented by sustainability. Instead of a single problem to be solved, perhaps even via a technological fix, sustainability is better understood as an ongoing, constantly evolving problem situation with which people and institutions locally and globally today and tomorrow constantly have to deal, often only more or less well. Because sustainability is only part of a larger context of such complex problems, which include the structure and growth of the population, knowledgeability, aspirations and values, the unequal distribution of wealth as well as technological development, innovative capacities, governance, climate change and resource use. In this respect, sustainability is not simply an environmental or development problem, but also an energy problem, a problem of economic development, technical development, values and land use.
Just as sustainability, the climate problem for example is not an isolated, singular problem. It is impossible to solve the climate problem by defining it as a problem that can only be solved by changing the way people use energy.
This new and forward-looking vision of sustainability must therefore serve as the foundation of a new interpretative and interdisciplinary research approach. We are working toward the developing of such an approach in the European Center for Sustainability Research.