December 8, 2023

Sustainable transformation of energy, movement and nutrition: research guides…

Joint press release by University of Manchester (United Kingdom), Institute for Environmental Economics Research (Germany) and Harvard University (USA)

Sustainable transformation of energy, movement and nutrition: shifting focus from research targets to actual transformation processes

English version of press release

► Research on sustainable transformations has made significant progress over the past decade and has yielded insights into the dynamics of long-term, systematic change.

► Special issue “Sustainability Transitions in Production-Consumption Systems” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

► The authors call for closer collaboration between scientific communities concerned with socio-ecological and socio-technological changes.

Manchester/Berlin/Cambridge, November 21, 2023 – Current consumption and production patterns that use natural resources to meet society’s needs for food, housing, energy and health are not sustainable. Researchers from socio-technical and socio-ecological disciplines now want to work more closely together to understand how these systems can become more sustainable. A Special issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesPublished by researchers from the University of Manchester, the Institute for Environmental Economics Research (IÖW) and Harvard University, it provides new insights into changes in electricity, food and mobility systems.

Over the past ten years, metamorphosis research has made significant progress and provided new insights into the dynamics of metamorphosis processes. The contributions in the special issue summarize the present results, elaborate on them, and apply them to various empirical contexts. Research shifts from sustainability goals and objectives to social change processes that contribute to achieving these goals. The special issue contains 15 articles from sustainability science, politics and practice that provide new insights into transitions for a wider audience.

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Systematic, long-term changes are needed

“The key challenge of our time is to make development sustainable – that is, to ensure that it promotes people’s well-being here and now, without unreasonably restricting people’s opportunities elsewhere or in the future,” he says. William Clarke, professor at Harvard University and director of its Sustainability Science Program. “This requires changes – and by that we mean significant, long-term changes in the actors, institutions, technologies and resources that make up production and consumption systems.” Contributions to the special issue discuss these changes in the areas of electricity, mobility and nutrient analysis. In addition, they address cross-cutting issues such as the disruption of existing systems, the role of shocks and the management of change.

Key aspects of change research: multilevel interactions, solutions, change processes

“The special issue makes three contributions to the pursuit of sustainability: it highlights the importance of multi-level interactions in sustainable change, it focuses on solutions, and it provides an in-depth and nuanced analysis of change processes,” it explains. Frank Keels, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Manchester. “It is interesting to see that changes in electricity, movement and nutrition are currently occurring at different speeds and depths. This is due to various techno-economic developments and socio-political activities. They are very advanced in the power system. They are beginning to emerge in the (auto)motion system, and in food systems they are early stages. seems to be in phase.

The contributions show the complexity of sustainability processes, which cannot be reduced to purely technical or economic explanations. Rather, they highlight the importance of understanding sustainability transitions as multi-layered, systematic, incomplete and contested processes. Innovations that are always designed and contribute to social, political, economic and cultural developments play an essential role.

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Deeper changes are slower

“One of the main findings of the special issue is that most changes are about restructuring rather than changing existing systems and that there are tensions between the depth and speed of change: the deeper the change, the more difficult and difficult it is. Usually the slower. It is also important to recognize that managing transformation processes is highly political and can be highly politicized. There are winners and losers,” he explains Florian Kern, metamorphosis researcher at the IÖW in Berlin. “The special issue also shows how transformation processes can be accelerated and steered on more sustainable paths. This is important because historical transformations were often slow, decades-long processes, whereas today time is of the essence in the face of multiple, interacting crises.

The special issue “Sustainability Changes in Consumption-Production Systems” is freely accessible in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:


Table of contents and articles to be downloaded:

Contact the authors:

Frank W. Kells University of Manchester

Manchester, UK

Phone: +44 748 253 4966

[email protected]

Florian Kern

Institute for Environmental Economic Research (IÖW)

Berlin, Germany

Tel: +49 30 884594 76

[email protected]

William C Clarke

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA, USA

Phone: +1 617 875 9903

[email protected]

Press Contact:

Richard Harnisch
Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (IÖW)
Tel.: +49 30/884594-16
 [email protected]


The Manchester Innovation Research Institute at the University of Manchester Innovation is a center of excellence in the field of research. The institute has a team of internationally recognized scientists and experts and offers wide expertise in various academic disciplines. With more than 50 full members, around 30 doctoral students and many associated scientists, it is one of the world’s leading research centers in this area. Research on sustainability changes is one of the institute’s main topics.

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Das Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (IÖW) ist ein führendes wissenschaftliches Institut auf dem Gebiet der praxisorientierten Nachhaltigkeitsforschung. Rund 70 Mitarbeiter*innen erarbeiten Strategien und Handlungsansätze für ein zukunftsfähiges Wirtschaften – für eine Ökonomie, die ein gutes Leben ermöglicht und die natürlichen Grundlagen erhält. Das Institut arbeitet gemeinnützig und ohne öffentliche Grundförderung. Das IÖW ist Mitglied im „Ecological Research Network“ (Ecornet), dem Netzwerk der außeruniversitären, gemeinnützigen Umwelt- und Nachhaltigkeitsforschungsinstitute in Deutschland. | Twitter | Mastodon | newsletter

The Sustainability Science Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Leverages the university’s strengths to promote the design of institutions, policies and practices that support sustainable development. The program addresses the challenge of sustainable development by improving scientific understanding of human-ecosystem systems, improving links between research and policy, and building capacity to link knowledge and action to promote sustainability. The program has supported major initiatives in policy development, faculty research, student and peer training, teaching, and outreach.