From 2002-2005, the institute has launched a research project that sets out to explore answers to the question "What kind of globalization is sustainable?". The project cut across divisions and included about 22 researchers. It pursued an internal and an external objective. The internal objective was to contribute to the further organisational development of the institute, reconfiguring the established research themes of the institute within a new frame of reference - the world society.
As an external objective, the institute intended to contribute to the academic and public debate on the causes, forms, results of economic globalisation and options for moving towards sustainability and greater equity. Research was organized around five issues. First the impact of globalisation on resource flows has to be identified. Using the quantitative methods of resource flow analysis, the group attempts to set out global flows of material and energy along with land use requirements were analyzed ("ecological footprint") in terms of volumes and geographical distribution (>>> see issue global material flows & transport). Second, the connection between land use and livelihoods was highlighted, focussing on the impact of land use for distant markets on local populations mainly in the South (>>> see issue land use & livelihoods). Third, the competing paradigms which underlie the present controversies about globalisation were highlighted. How do ideals such as justice and well-being change in an age of bio-physical finiteness? Could ecology become a core category of a cosmopolitan (as opposed to a neoliberal) design of globalisation? (>>> see issue equity & new models of wealth). Fourth, paths towards dematerialisation were attempted, in particular for newly industrialising countries in the South and economies in transition in the East. By way of scenarios, options can be explored for developing infrastructures in fields such as energy, transport and water, on a non-fossil basis (>>> see issue leapfrogging & transfer). And fifth, building blocks of an sustainable governance architecture for the global economy were identified. Research centred on the design of frameworks which aim at establishing coherence of multilateral regimes, the variety of actors in the political arena, and global economic conditions with the imperative of sustainability (>>> see issue sustainable governance).
Background to the project
Since the Brundtland report (WCED 1987) and the Rio Conference in 1992 (UNCED) the issue of "sustainability" has been addressed in numerous publications and developed further. On an international political level the programmatic significance of the concept was last confirmed in September 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. However, on the ecological level, and even more so on the social and economic levels, the definition of agreed clear key principles and target instruments has not been achieved. Most of all an integrated view of the three dimensions of sustainability is lacking, which can be accepted by society and which can form a concept bridging strategic long-term planning with medium-term decision-making by politics and business.
Whereas on the national level there are at least a few studies which consider the ecological, social and economic dimensions of sustainability and make an effort to put them into operation, on the international level a controversial discussion oriented mostly at socio-economic issues dominates at the current time under the heading of "globalisation". Both critics and supporter of globalisation have often failed to systematically integrate the ecological dimension of globalisation. On the other hand, international discourse on sustainability is as a rule far removed from the social and economic focus points of the globalisation discussion. Subjects addressing an "ecologisation of globalisation" as well as a "globalised sustainability strategy" have until now not often been taken up as research issues.
The Wuppertal Institute is in a position to contribute to this necessary integration of globalisation dimensions. At the end of 2001 the key project on "What kind of globalisation is sustainable?" was thus initiated which integrates the work of all the institutes divisions. The project attempts to sketch out a transition towards a more sustainable globalisation with the help of scenarios, key principles, and implementation concepts on a global level as well as national case studies. In doing this it takes up those ideas, concepts and methods which have made the Wuppertal Institute well known throughout the world. Included here are in particular the studies "Greening the North" (Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland), "Factor Four", MIPS and international material flow comparisons, as well as the "Factor Four" world energy scenario. The aim of the project is to move the scientific competence and concepts from the institute's various divisions into a new frame of reference - the world society. Moreover, the project attempts to intervene in the academic discussion on globalisation as well as in the debates among NGO's, policy makers and an internationally minded public, which, since the preparations for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, have brought the relationship between sustainability and globalisation into sharp focus.