The growing world population, the trend towards urbanization and the rapid rise in production and consumption activities are the main reasons for the increasing use of scarce resources and the impairment of important ecosystem services. Together with phenomena like poverty, hunger, mass unemployment or an extremely uneven distribution of income, they are in many areas and regions symptoms of unsustainable production processes and consumption patterns. Considerable political and economic efforts are required to allow for the necessary and sometimes far-reaching changes which are a prerequisite for the realization of a sustainable development.
The research area "Sustainability and environment" mainly focuses on analyses in key areas of environmental research like land use, energy systems, water supply and sewage disposal as well as the increase of productivity of raw materials, on the development of adjusted measures for coping with existing problems in these areas and the conditions for the implementation of different possible solutions. The analyses concerning sustainability are carried out using the Integrative Concept of Sustainable Development of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) which has been developed under the direction of ITAS and is since then used for different national and international projects and consultations. Based on the postulate of inter- and intragenerational justice, it covers ecological, economic, social, and institutional aspects.
The research concentrates on questions regarding the use of renewable and non-renewable resources in the context of technologies, products, etc. as well as on strategies for more sustainability in these areas. Also the role of culture, cultural change and education with respect to the treatment of natural goods and a sustainable development is analyzed. Areas of research are urban agglomerations as well as rural areas on a local, regional, national, and global level. The use and further development of methods and instruments play a crucial role for the realization of these works. Various quantitative (like process chain analyses, simulation modeling, life cycle assessment) and qualitative methods (like the Delphi method, expert interviews, focus groups, stakeholder workshops) are being applied. Special emphasis is put on the scenario method to be able to deal with the complexities and uncertainties of future studies in an appropriate way. The research projects are organized in the two key topics described in the following.