Arnim Wiek selected as Alexander von Humboldt Professor

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Arnim Wiek. Photo provided by Arnim Wiek
Arnim Wiek. Photo provided by Arnim Wiek

Sustainability researcher aims to build a new Centre for Sustainable Food Economy at University of Freiburg with five-year funding

Sustainability researcher Arnim Wiek from Arizona State University and visiting professor at the University of Freiburg will receive one of this year’s Alexander von Humboldt Professorships. He will use the funding of five million euros to establish a new research Centre for Sustainable Food Economy at the University of Freiburg. In particular, the centre will link existing research activities on the topic at the University of Freiburg and in the trinational Upper Rhine region and strengthen their transfer to society.

"Arnim Wiek is one of the leading scientists in the field of sustainability science. He has played a decisive role in shaping the field’s development," says a spokesperson from the Humboldt Foundation in light of the professorship award. Kerstin Krieglstein , Rector of the University of Freiburg, emphasises: "I am very pleased that Arnim Wiek has been awarded the Humboldt Professorship 2024. Together with him, the University is positioned to further expand its focus on sustainability science." Another milestone in this regard is the Innovation Campus currently being set up with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), which also offers potential for links to the Humboldt Professorship.

Wiek has made important contributions to the development of sustainability science over the past 15 years, particularly in the areas of research methodology, educational programs, and societal relevance. His empirical research ranges from water management, urban development, and climate change mitigation to the governance of nanotechnology. Since 2017, Wiek has focused primarily on issues related to sustainable food systems.

The focus on small and medium-sized food businesses and their institutional support

Wiek’s main research focus is on small and medium-sized food businesses, especially those that are located between production and consumption, are involved in processing, logistics and distribution. "They have a particularly big potential for developing sustainable regional value chains because they fulfil critical supply chain functions, are anchored in the region and often act more innovatively than large food corporations," says Wiek. Institutional support for these businesses is also already breaking new ground, which Wiek is helping to shape and explore. "In this case, we’re specifically talking about training and advisory services on cooperative and nonprofit forms of enterprise, inclusive approaches to food policy and building an inclusive food democracy, and expanding social and ethical financing models." However, all of this is still taking place in niche areas. Wiek emphasises, "Knowledge transfer and scaling of these innovative practices and models are central to the sustainability transformation in the food economy - and it’s these in particular that the planned research centre seeks to advance."

Involvement of practitioners and societal stakeholders

Methodologically, Wiek’s research is marked by a high degree of solution orientation and transdisciplinarity, such as the inclusion of practitioners and societal stakeholders in his research activities. "In this way, we want to ensure that our research is relevant to real-world implementation and actually contributes to the desired sustainability transformation in business and society," says Wiek. One particular approach is the "Mobile Solution Research Lab," a real-lab format that Wiek has tested at research centres in Canada and the U.S. and will now develop further in collaboration with KIT. It is a spatially flexible transdisciplinary research infrastructure that can be embedded in different practical contexts of the food industry and can thus produce a diverse amount of decision-relevant data. Last but not least, Wiek’s research and teaching activities are also concerned with making sustainability an integral part of professional training and academic programs on food systems.

"I am very much looking forward to tackling the upcoming tasks in central sustainability fields at the University of Freiburg with many of my new colleagues," says Arnim Wiek. "I would like to thank the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for making this possible by awarding me this professorship."

About Arnim Wiek:

After studying philosophy at the University of Bonn and the Free University of Berlin and environmental sciences at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Arnim Wiek received his PhD from ETH Zurich in 2005. After further positions at ETH Zurich and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he has been working at Arizona State University, USA, since 2008 - as a Full Professor since 2019 - where he heads the Sustainable Food Economy Lab. He has also held visiting professorships at the Universities of Freiburg, Lüneburg, Utrecht, and Tokyo. In 2017, he was awarded the Sustainability Research Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

About the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship:

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is the most highly endowed German science award and is granted exclusively to top researchers who are world leaders in their field as well as working abroad and are then expected to move to Germany on a long-term basis with the professorship. The Humboldt Professorship is awarded by the   Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It enables long-term, forward-looking research to be carried out at universities and research institutions in this country and makes a lasting contribution to Germany’s international competitiveness as a research hub. Since 2008, Humboldt Professorships have been awarded every year for this purpose within the framework of the International Research Fund for Germany. In 2020, the Alexander von Humboldt Professorships for Artificial Intelligence (AI) were additionally created. The award is granted in each case as soon as the appointment procedure for the professorship has been successfully completed.