Social innovation

Technological advances can contribute a lot to transitions towards sustainable development. But they are not enough. Innovation of political institutions, social structures, and individual behaviour is even more important. CDE provides knowledge on:

  • individual and collective actions that set in motion needed changes;
  • measures and processes that promote sustainable production methods and sustainable consumption; and
  • how social innovations can trigger changes in values that reach the mainstream.


Sufficiency is about the conscious reduction of material and energy needs. The goal of the concept is to bring our consumption and economic activity in line with the limits of our planet. CDE explores how sufficiency can be anchored in our individual lives as well as in education, business, work, and society.


Consumption serves to satisfy our needs. In its current form, however, it has strong negative impacts on the environment and climate – and often on labour conditions in producer countries. CDE researches innovative and just solutions that enable fair, environmentally friendly consumption and lifestyles within a low-impact economy.


Human well-being is much more than material prosperity: It is an overarching goal of sustainable development. CDE develops concepts and indicators that make it possible to capture and measure sustainable quality of life and well-being. It also investigates what a good and simultaneously low-impact life might look like.

Environmental justice

The ecological changes driven by climate change, land grabbing, and overuse of natural resources also worsen social inequalities. CDE uses methods and concepts of environmental justice to evaluate such conflicts, to identify causes of marginalization and inequality, and to develop pathways for fairer solutions.


Sustainable decisions result from far-reaching participation of affected people and communities. With robust data, information access, and local capacity development, CDE fosters the empowerment of actors who do not belong to established governance structures – especially in the areas of land use, food systems, and labour conditions.

Labour and production

Technical and sociopolitical developments open up new opportunities for transformation to a sustainable society in the area of work and employment. CDE examines forms of work and social innovations that could alter our relationship to consumption and prosperity. This approach is complemented by studies on global value chains and rural labour markets in countries of the global South.

Poverty and inequality

Poverty and inequality are drivers and outcomes of unsustainable development. There is a need to distribute resources and opportunities more fairly. CDE researchers work to shed light on the causes and consequences of global inequality. They examine key poverty factors at the household level and link them with analyses of trade and the economy.