Declaration of Inception


We acknowledge that we are living in a time of transformation. A range of interconnected social, economic, cultural, and ecological changes are taking place globally at levels never before seen. These changes not only threaten a number of “planetary boundaries” in the long term but also bring the topic of inter- and intragenerational justice to the fore: How can we ensure sustainable development within safe and just boundaries?
We emphasize the fact that sustainability science shows increasing capacity for analyzing and understanding key challenges and their drivers. At the same time, society is responding to these challenges by establishing a global agenda of sustainable development goals. South–North relations and links between global and local spheres are being reinterpreted and newly considered. However, the concept of sustainable development does not provide the pathway or a distinctive solution that can be easily followed. Sustainability science thus not only faces the challenge of generating an even more nuanced understanding of sustainability problems but also needs to contribute to finding and testing possible solutions.
We see the need for societal learning processes to address these challenges and the inherent complexity therein. Different actors around the globe will have to contribute to a transition toward sustainability. In so doing, universities will play an important role in and for civic society in the 21st century. They will have to reconsider their role and activities in order to contribute to finding and testing solutions both for and with society.


We recognize that the quest for methods to transition toward sustainability involves constant mutual learning and negotiation. These processes take place at the interface of science and society. Science thus needs to discover new methods of communication and investigation, while society is being asked to become open to such mutual learning processes. These learning processes will take place between science and society as well as between the Global South and the Global North.
We understand that transdisciplinary learning is key to sustainable development. Transdisciplinary learning occurs at three closely interlinked levels: (1) the level of individual learning, in which key competencies for sustainability are developed; (2) the level of organizational learning through experience-based collaboration; and (3) the level of societal learning through social interaction.


We affirm our deep commitment to enabling and fostering transdisciplinary learning processes. The co-creation of knowledge between science and society and between the Global South and the Global North lies at heart of our activities. We will contribute to such learning by designing, implementing, and evaluating learning processes, by building the capacity to do so, and by active agenda setting.
We act in three strategic working areas to live up to our commitment. Our research focus lies on transdisciplinary learning for sustainable development, and we aim to provide evidence-based insights into transdisciplinary learning processes and their potential for sustainable development. By supporting communities of practice and networks of local and regional experts in both the Global South and the Global North, we actively mobilize the capacities of change agents. We offer consultation and advice for actors from such fields as policy, civil society, the economy, and administration regarding issues of transdisciplinary learning for sustainable development.


We invite key stakeholders in science, policy, economy, and civil society to an open dialogue on pathways leading to a transition toward sustainability. Meaningful societal learning can only occur as a joint endeavor across boundaries and by thinking outside the box. It is our very intention to establish the Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning as a facilitator of mutual learning processes across boundaries and as a substantial contributor to a safe and just future.

Signed in September 2019

For the Institute of Sustainable Development and Learning:

Prof.Dr. Matthias Barth, Prof.Dr. Daniel J. Lang, Prof.Dr. Gerd Michelsen

For Leuphana University Lüneburg hosting ISDL:

Prof. (HSG) Dr. Sascha Spoun, Prof.Dr. Henrik von Wehrden

For the Advisory Board committed to supporting ISDL with their expertise:

Rebecca Harms, former MP European Parliament; Prof.em. Helga Kromp-Kolb, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Austria; Prof.Dr. Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Rhodes University, South Africa; Prof.Dr. Thomas Potthast, University of Tübingen, Germany; Prof.em.Tan Sri Dato Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, International Islamic University, Malaysia; Prof.Dr. Imme Scholz, German Development Institute (DIE), Germany; Prof. Mirian Vilela, Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development