Alexander von Humboldt Professorship 2024

Arnim Wiek

Arnim Wiek is a world leader in sustainability science and has played a seminal role in shaping its development. At the University of Freiburg, Wiek is invited to establish a Center for Sustainable Food Economy that will create synergies between existing research activities both there and at other universities in the tri-national Upper Rhein region. He will also help to reinforce efforts to internationalise sustainability research in Germany.

  • Nominating University: University of Freiburg
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Sustainability research

During the last 15 years, Arnim Wiek has made important contributions to the development of sustainability science, particularly in the fields of research methodology, training programmes and the relevance of social implementation. His empirical research work ranges from water management via urban development and climate protection to the governance of nanotechnology. Since 2017, Wiek has been focusing on issues related to a sustainable food economy.

War, exploitation, poverty, environmental pollution, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic all contribute to preventing current food systems around the world from being developed sustainably. The consequences in many countries are degraded agricultural areas, displaced small businesses, wage inequality, hunger and nutrition-related diseases. The UN’s World Food Programme is therefore calling for more local solutions to be found for the food economy and for international collaborations to be used to drive the sustainable development of food systems in all countries.

Wiek’s research adopts an innovative approach, taking existing practices and models of the sustainable food economy as the point of departure for transfer and scaling. This refers to innovations in collaborative and non-profit business models, integrative food economy policies, inclusive nutrition democracy and social financing models. Wiek’s aim is to explore the barely visible small and medium-sized food companies located between production and consumption, that is, processing, logistics and distribution, and to utilise them to develop sustainable regional value-added chains. Typical for his work is a strong focus on solutions combined with transdisciplinary research methods for close cooperation with practitioners. Wiek involves experts from various academic disciplines and sectors of society in so-called real labs for the sustainable transformation of the food economy, thus driving inter- and transdisciplinary dialogue. Last but not least, in his research and teaching, Wiek seeks to make sustainability an integral part of vocational education as well as academic programmes on food systems.

In Freiburg, Arnim Wiek is called upon to establish the new research field of sustainable food economy that has barely been developed institutionally in Germany. Under the umbrella of a Center for Sustainable Food Economy, he is invited to amalgamate existing research activities in various faculties at the University of Freiburg with similar initiatives at universities in the tri-national Upper Rhine region and in Germany. By establishing a Mobile Solution Research Lab – a format that he has already tested in Canada and the United States – Wiek is set to create a spatially distributive, immersive, hybrid research infrastructure that can be used flexibly to conduct real-world laboratory experiments in sustainable food economy.

Arnim Wiek at the Sustainable Food Economy Lab of Arizona State University 

Brief bio

Having studied philosophy at the University of Bonn and FU Berlin, as well as environmental sciences at the University of Jena, Armin Wiek completed his doctorate at ETH Zurich in 2005. Following research stints at ETH Zurich and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, he has been working at Arizona State University, United States, since 2008, becoming a full professor in 2019. Here he heads the Sustainable Food Economy Lab. He has also been a visiting professor at the universities of Freiburg, Lüneburg, Utrecht and Tokyo. In 2017, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education granted him the Sustainability Research Award.

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