Sustainability as a guiding theme

How can we achieve the aim of “preserving for ourselves and our children a natural basis of life that is viable for the future”?

The challenges we are currently facing are tremendous: climate change, water shortage, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and shortage of energy and raw materials. Pure relinquishment strategies are neither workable nor would they meet with public acceptance. Increasing ecological, economic, and social challenges require a system-oriented approach which promotes interdisciplinary thought and collaboration in order to develop innovative solutions. The basis is a perspective which integrates future requirements and demands with consideration of global justice. Research and development play a key role in achieving these goals. The focus is on innovative developments meeting the requirements of sustainable development. Future growth, taking into account the quality of life, must be achieved with only a fraction of our current resource consumption and a substantial reduction in emissions.

Sustainability is the word of the moment. But what exactly does it mean?

The term was coined by Hans Carl von Carlowitz in a forestry context as early as 1713 in his book “Sylvicultura oeconomica”. This shows that mankind already recognized ecological limitations at an early point in time. An overall characterization of the term sustainability is provided in the definition framed by the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development – WECD) in 1987, which describes “sustainable development” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Intragenerational as well as intergenerational justice is thus the key concept of sustainable development. Sustainability is not a term that can be unambiguously defined in the sense of the natural sciences, but is rather a guiding principle of a normative nature. It describes a certain relationship between man and the environment which provides for the needs of both present and future generations.

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft's commitment to contributing to sustainable development has already been enshrined in its mission statement: “The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft supports efforts directed toward the sustainable development of society, industry, and the environment. The Fraunhofer institutes play an active part in such efforts through a responsible approach to the implementation of new technologies and through research and studies conducted on behalf of industrial and public-sector clients.”

Currently addressed sustainability topics cover: bio-based raw materials, raw material efficiency and resource management, water management, sustainable products and processes, climate change and cultural heritage, life cycle management and environmental assessment, renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and energy systems, sustainable mobility.

We are implementing the sustainability concept in all our research activities; because sustainable development leads to innovation processes in industry and society and to the safeguarding of our natural basis of life.