Work & Sustainability

The world of work is undergoing massive change and this transformation will be crucial to putting society on a trajectory towards sustainable development. The Science Platform Sustainability 2030 provides important insights for this transition – in Germany and beyond.


The working group has completed their work and published several papers (available in German only):


Final Report   Background Study   Input for State Secretaries’ Committee


Interview with Stephan Lessenich:

Read more


Retrospect on the working group’s work:

Work, sustainability, and the role of science

The world of work is undergoing a rapid transformation that is shaking up the foundations of traditional industrial society. What we do, how we work, who we work for, what work means to us and what functions it fulfils – all of these aspects have been called into question, with far-reaching impacts for both individual workers and global sustainable development.

For example, the growth of informal and precarious employment undermines key functions of work within industrial societies: creating meaning, bestowing recognition, affording participation, and providing security. The destabilisation of individuals and indeed whole societies is one possible negative consequence of this development.

At the same time, a shift away from the classical industrial working regime also holds opportunities: technological and social innovations could, for example, deliver significant progress towards reducing the consumption of raw materials in production processes and increasing participation in society.

How can opportunities be exploited and risks contained in order to make the working world of tomorrow a more sustainable one? Achieving this will require that we consider work within the context of the multiple dimensions of sustainable development and place it at the centre of debates on sustainable development.

So far, the social and economic aspects of work have usually been at the forefront of political, social, and scientific debates on the subject. It is seldom that all three dimensions of sustainable development are considered in this context in order to provide a comprehensive perspective encompassing the potential of work to create added value, its social function, and its ecological consequences.

Even in more comprehensive debates on sustainability, the subject of employment is generally treated as a side issue rather than an enabling factor for sustainable development.

The role of science

One thing is certain: changes in the world of work have a massive impact on the stability and the dynamics of business, society, and the environment. The same applies conversely – both locally and to a large extent globally – and this ultimately impacts on individual workers.

In order to account for this, efforts to make work more sustainable and achieve complementary sustainability effects must take these complex issues into account and pursue a transdisciplinary approach to their resolution.

Here, too, science must adopt innovative and transdisciplinary approaches to shift work to the centre of sustainability debates as it engages with relevant actors.

Tackling the challenge of sustainable work

The central goal of the working group on the future of work is to identify gaps, trade-offs, and impending anachronisms in the German Strategy for Sustainable Development. The world of work is changing so swiftly that existing policy objectives may be rendered obsolete before they can be implemented – the challenges presented by the digital transition, for example, are not sufficiently reflected in the German Strategy for Sustainable Development.

Science has to a large degree been unable to keep pace with the recent upheavals in the world of work. As a result, significant research deficits exist in relation to the growing and increasingly important service sector and its interactions with aspects across all three dimensions of sustainable development.

An impulse for the implementation of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development

In an effort to address these challenges, the working group will study service work within the context of the mobility, considering its relevance to sustainable development and its significance for everyday life and within the global context. Building on their analysis, the working group will generate key insights for the implementation and further development of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development.

Among other things, the group will formulate an overview of changes in the world of work resulting from new, often digitally-supported, collaborative mobility services.

“The world of work is in a state of transformation, and digitalisation will enable further innovations that will massively advance the transformation process. Our findings will support efforts to ensure that the German Strategy for Sustainable Development takes sufficient account of current and future dynamics in the world of work.”

Marion A. Weissenberger-Eibl

The group will base its analysis on a broad understanding of work: This research will consider both traditional forms of employment within the context of mobility services as well as the reconfiguration of employment and other non-occupational activities made possible or initiated through collective forms of mobility.

In addition, the working group will contribute to dialogues and debates on the subject of work with the aim of both raising awareness of sustainability issues in the discourse on work and emphasising the importance of work in sustainability discourse.

How are the results passed on?

The findings of the Science Platform stimulate further research and contribute to a variety of political processes for the implementation of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Who can participate and how?

The Science Platform is open to interested parties from science and society wishing to contribute to our work or participate in our forums for dialogue and transdisciplinary events in particular. To learn more, please contact the secretariat.


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