Green Economy: Fraunhofer ISI begins three new research projects on sustainable innovations

The vision of a “Green Economy“ is characterized by investments in sustainable innovations that contribute significantly to the transformation to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economy. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI is examining innovative and sustainable economic approaches and their possible impacts on society within the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s (BMBF) funding program “Sustainable Economy“. Research is being done on the importance of real-world research and innovation platforms for sustainable innovations, open workshops as a collaborative economic form, and sustainable concepts for municipal fields of action like water supply and wastewater disposal, energy, construction and housing.

Modern economic systems are increasingly focused on sustainability and this is a topic also increasingly featured in public, political and economic debates. A far-reaching transformation of society is needed for the shift to a more sustainable economy. Sustainable innovations play a major role here and can fundamentally change existing economic systems. In order to ensure this, however, further research has to be done on the conditions required for the formation and establishment of such sustainable economic innovations. In this context, the three projects INNOLAB, COWERK and TransNIK, which are being funded by the BMBF as part of its social-ecological research on the “Sustainable economy“, examine when and how sustainable innovations can become systemically relevant for the economy and society.

In the INNOLAB project, the Fraunhofer ISI and its partners are exploring how “Living Labs“ (real-world research and innovation platforms) can help to improve the market acceptance of green innovations. The focus here is on integrating users in developing and testing prototypes under realistic conditions. Fraunhofer ISI is plotting the changing environment of living labs and heads a roadmapping process that aims to identify the best ways of promoting the living lab approach in the research and innovation system of a green economy. In the affiliated, practice-based project “Sustainable shopping: customer guidance at the point of sale“, fields tests are conducted to find out how to improve consumer access to more sustainable products when shopping.

The second project COWERK deals with new collaborative forms of do-it-yourself and working cooperatively. Fraunhofer ISI is helping to develop a shared vision for open workshops and is exploring their potential to transform the economy and society. The main objective is to discover how “Fab Labs“ and other open workshops that are sustainably designed from an ecological, social and economic perspective can be more widely established across society, and linked to existing economic structures in the context of open innovation processes. This should also help to determine how the new culture of do-it-yourself and do-it-together could lead to a more decentralized and sustainable economy.

Fraunhofer ISI also coordinates the TransNIK project that deals with innovative approaches to greater sustainability. This project focuses on the drivers for and obstacles to new sustainable niche approaches in the classical fields of municipal activity such as energy supply, water supply and wastewater disposal as well as construction and housing. Based on case studies and in close cooperation with practitioners, recommendations are derived for the stakeholders involved and for the policy framework setting required to push the formation and diffusion of sustainable niche innovations. In addition, the project reveals synergy effects between the three fields of activity and enables learning to take place across the different domains.

Nele Friedrichsen, who coordinates TransNIK at the Fraunhofer ISI, has the following to say about the three research projects: “Together with our research partners, we want to use our theory-based, application-oriented research on a sustainable economy to develop possible solutions to current economic and societal challenges. Our objective is to demonstrate the relevance of sustainable innovations and advise key stakeholders about the options for promoting niche activities“. Lorenz Erdmann, who coordinates the research activities in COWERK and INNOLAB at the Fraunhofer ISI, emphasizes the importance of bridging research on sustainable innovations and forward actions towards a Green Economy: “The Fraunhofer ISI is making a significant contribution to dovetailing transformation and futures research in these three projects. The aim is to encourage the transition to a green economy by integrating practitioners and decision-makers in the development of shared visions, scenarios and roadmaps.“

According to Friedrichsen and Erdmann, the three research projects COWERK, TransNIK and INNOLAB can help trigger changes in key economic and societal areas in the direction of more sustainable development.

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  • Project partners: Wuppertal Institut, Fraunhofer ISI, Fraunhofer IMS, Universität Siegen, Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz, infoware, SODA, GS1 Germany, ARGE REGIO Stadt- und Regionalentwicklung


Project COWERK

  • Project partners: Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung, Fraunhofer ISI, Fraunhofer UMSICHT. Multiplicities, Universität Bremen, Verbund offener Werkstätten e.V.


Project TransNIK

  • Project partners: Fraunhofer ISI, Institut Wohnen und Umwelt GmbH (IWU), Professur für Nachhaltigkeit und Politik an der Universität Leuphana
  • Practitioners: Netzwerk “100ee-Regionen“ / Institut für dezentrale Energietechnologien, Klima Bündnis, 100 prozent erneuerbar Stiftung, projekt21plus GmbH, Innova eG, Netzwerk Energiewende Jetzt, Emschergenossenschaft / Lippeverband, OttoWasser GmbH, Arbeitskreis Integriertes Wohnen e.V., STATTBAU HAMBURG Stadtentwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, Wohnbund-Beratung NRW GmbH, Stiftung Trias, gemeinnützige Stiftung für Boden, Ökologie und Wohnen, STATTBAU Berlin / Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen 

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.