Research Division Profile


The scientists are investigating how transformation processes towards a circular economy with low resource consumption can be successfully implemented.

Numerous analyses and studies point to the potential of the circular economy – both in terms of resource and climate protection and with a view to possible cost savings and increased competitiveness.

However, despite this apparent win-win situation, production and consumption patterns are still largely linear, and closed-loop product design and implementation has so far rarely progressed beyond niche applications.

Therefore, the researchers of the Circular Economy Division pursue a transformative research approach, which deals systematically and from a holistic perspective with the identification and analysis of necessary innovation processes in order to enable the essential system change.

The focus is on the necessary building blocks of the Circular Economy: from indicators and measuring methods to concrete instruments and strategies up to technologies in the context of digitalisation. For this purpose, the scientists of the Wuppertal Institute develop a consistent picture of the overall impact of such changes and thus generate future knowledge for the circular economy.

Based on this research-strategic approach the following guidelines result in the orientation and methodology in their specific projects:

  • The development, implementation and evaluation of systemic innovations such as the transition to a circular economy require an interdisciplinary approach that integrates both the analysis of technical prerequisites, institutional framework conditions and the associated socio-economic effects, especially the consumption of resources.
  • Closed-loop recycling management is to be thought of from different angles: Therefore, the projects deal with transformation processes on the level of the individual industrial park, urban systems and the European perspective. They are characterised by intensive processes of exchange with various groups of actors, in politics, civil society, and industry.
  • Radical transformation processes such as the change to a circular economy cause winners and losers and are associated with costs. The challenge here is to develop suitable strategies and implementation concepts that lead to a balance of interests.
  • The transition to a circular economy requires additional investments and transaction costs, which should be minimised as far as possible.
  • Digitalisation offers huge opportunities in all areas, as long as it can be successfully used as a lever for the circular economy and at the same time made sustainable.

The Research Units of the Division with their different focuses, are aiming for the common goal of a resource-light and climate-neutral circular economy.

Digital Transformation

The Research Unit Digital Transformation investigates the perspectives of digitalisation and how it can be used for a sustainable transformation and especially for the transition to a closed loop economy (e.g. as a lever for recycling plastics) and at the same time be made sustainable. Accordingly, the projects shed light on the partly still unclear and contradictory perspectives of sustainable digitalisation.

more about the Research Unit Digital Transformation

Circular Systems

The Circular Systems Research Unit investigates how the consumption of resources can be reduced and materials cycles closed. The researchers take a systems perspective, carry out assessments and develop suitable blueprints.

more about the Research Unit Circular Systems

Circular Transitions

The Circular Transitions Research Unit investigates how the process of transformation towards a circular economy can be shaped, managed and accelerated in collaboration with active participants in the transit

more about the Research Unit Circular Transitions

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