Whether a large multinational company or a craft business: Companies and industries are key players for a sustainable economic and social system of tomorrow. Driven by megatrends such as digitalisation and Industry 4.0 completely new design opportunities are emerging. Crises, such as climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic, on the other hand, lead to the need for system changes and leap innovations are more necessary than ever. New business models and lifestyles are leading to fundamental transformations in our economy and society.

Shaping this dynamic of transformation into a sustainable economic system is essential, otherwise today's changes will mean tomorrow's economic, social, and ecological conflicts. This is increasingly recognised by political decision-makers, investors, consumers, and business partners of companies. They set new standards for sustainable business and call on companies to evaluate and disclose their positive contributions along their value chain for social development as well as their impacts on the environment and climate. Redefining strategies for sustainable corporate transformation and thus contributing to solving global environmental and social problems is both an opportunity and a challenge.

Digitalisation and Industry 4.0
Companies with their globally interconnected supply chains play an essential role in achieving the globally agreed sustainability goals of the United Nations (Sustainable Development Goals) and the associated climate and resource targets.

Companies shape global value chains and influence consumption patterns They can develop resource-efficient and climate-friendly technologies, products and services for the growth markets of today and tomorrow. They can also reduce the pressure on the massive construction and expansion of infrastructures that is necessary worldwide and thus reduce the global and local demand for raw materials and energy – if they are designed in an ecologically intelligent and socially innovative way. Transformations with innovation for climate protection and sustainability can therefore only be designed with businesses and their core competencies.

Corporate Strategy, Cultural Change, and Qualification

Against the background of major societal challenges, companies face high expectations when it comes to designing their strategy and transformation processes. Pressure from external stakeholders for sustainable corporate management is increasing. Politicians are introducing new regulations and verification requirements. Consumers and financial market players are increasingly taking sustainability into account in their purchasing, financing, and investment decisions. They call on companies to quantify their impact on the environment and society and to disclose it in a reliable manner. In order for a company not only to assert itself against the competition in this dynamic, but also to play an active role in shaping it, a new entrepreneurial self-image combined with courageous and innovative strategies that are supported by a change in corporate cultures is necessary. This requires suitable framework conditions and individual transformation concepts that support companies in their change processes.

As an independent institute, the Wuppertal Institute conducts research on both the political-regulatory framework for economic transformation and the necessary transformation concepts for companies – such as sustainability assessment, strategy and roadmap development, qualification, and communication.

Innovations in Products and Services

The sustainability transformation can only succeed if companies allow themselves to be guided by an expanded (system) innovation concept. In order to o test appropriate innovations, companies will need their own development "laboratories", so-called living labs or real labs, in which they can better understand the impacts of "sustainable and transformative products and services" and where internal company innovation processes are supported. For the Wuppertal Institute the focus of its company-related research is on industries with particular relevance to emissions or resources or on "enabler" sectors/organisations, such as the education sector, the finance and insurance sector, information and communication service providers, logistics, plant and mechanical engineering.

Circular Economy as a new Cross-Cutting Sustainability Issue

One of the biggest and most important current environmental issues is solving the climate problem. This requires far-reaching efforts in society, politics, and business. 50 per cent of global emissions are attributable to raw material extraction – which is why, in addition to the necessary structural changes in industry, a rethinking of the linear economy towards a circular economy is also necessary. This means that we need a systemic way of thinking – and new forms of cooperation and business models need to be developed. Further information on this can be found on the circular economy topic page. The Wuppertal Institute can accompany companies precisely on this path.

Future Paths for Energy-Intensive Industry

The energy-intensive basic materials industry – in particular, steel production, basic chemicals, the aluminum industry, glass, paper, and cement production – plays a central role in drastically reducing global energy and resource consumption. After all, these industries produce the basic materials for infrastructures, buildings, machinery, and consumer goods. With energy system and scenario analyses, analyses of resource flows along the value chains as well as the specific innovation systems of the industries involved, the Wuppertal Institute shows the way forward.

Sustainable Finance as a Driver for Economic Transformation

Financial market players shape capital flows needed to finance the required transformation towards a climate-neutral and sustainable economy. The European Union's New Green Deal is accompanied by a set of new rules for financing economic transformation – such as the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, Climate Risks in Non-Financial Reporting, and the Green Bond Standard. These affect not only financial market actors but also multinational companies and, indirectly, small, and medium-sized enterprises in the real economy. The Wuppertal Institute accompanies this process in its function as an impact-oriented think tank. It examines sustainability criteria and quantifies the impact of financial products, investments, and business strategies – especially with regard to the Paris climate goals. The focus is on the transformation of the "gray" economy, i.e., on the change from conventional production methods and markets towards a climate-friendly, ecologically compatible, and socially equitable way of doing business.

The Challenges of the Food Industry

28 per cent of resource consumption and 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to Europe's food industry. Changing dietary habits such as increasing out-of-home catering and industrial manufacturing, provide a challenging starting point for sustainable change. With comprehensive analyses of food production and processing along the various links of the supply chain and the uncovering of central ecological and social challenges, the Wuppertal Institute provides the basis for a transformation in the food industry.


Markus Kühlert is available regarding the topic of sustainability in companies, and Dr. Henning Wilts is your contact for questions relating to Circular Economy.

Stefan Lechtenböhmer

In order to reconcile prosperity growth with climate and resource protection, we rely on energy and resource efficiency, a decarbonised energy supply and the breakthrough of new technologies, particularly in energy-intensive industries. The contribution that individual companies and industries can make with new business models for sustainable living and economic models, and how politics and society can support them in this, is what we address in our research.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Lechtenböhmer
Director of Division Future Energy and Industrial Systems


You find more information on the transformation of the economy here:



Here you find up-to-date information on research findings and activities in the field of economy and business and industries.


Research with and for business and industries or sectors. In the following you find selected sample projects. A complete list is available here.

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