Project Profile: SuperSustain

The role of supermarkets as key agents in systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production


Principal Investigators: Altenburg Tilman, German Institute of Development and Sustainability, Germany
Partners: Karaer Özgen, Middle East Technical University, Turkey
Liedtke Christa, Wuppertal Institut fuer Klima,, Germany
Reardon Thomas, Michigan State University, United States of America (the)


Full Project Title: The role of supermarkets as key agents in systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production
Full Call Title: SSCP2022


Project Objective: Supermarkets are among the most powerful actors in the shift towards Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SSCP). They impose standards on their suppliers and shape consumer behavior - for good or bad. Sustainability behavior of supermarket chains differs considerably across sustainability dimensions, business models and countries. The main research questions are: (a) How do supermarkets' sustainability profiles differ, (b) what determines the differences and (c) how can sustainable practices be scaled up? Sustainability decisions are not taken by corporate management in isolation. Rather, supermarkets are part of complex socio-technical systems, in which business practices co-evolve through nonlinear interaction with the social systems in which they are embedded and the dynamic interplay between actors and structures. Here, consumers' purchasing decisions, NGO pressure, decisions by suppliers and service providers and changing narratives in business associations all influence corporate business practices. How these interact, and how transformative action can be taken to gear these systems towards sustainability, is currently a black box. Research is organised in WP aimed at (1) conceptualising supermarkets as part of socio-technical systems; (2) analyzing corporate sustainability profiles; (3) identifying exceptional sustainability innovations and their determinants; (4) conducting consumer surveys and behavioral experiments, co-designed with retail corporations; (5) assessing environmental effects through stakeholders engagement and life-cycle assessments; and (6) developing solutions to improve supermarkets' sustainability behavior. The consortium combines a diversity of disciplinary angles across social sciences, natural sciences and engineering as well as research methodologies (modelling, rigorous behavioral experiments, benchmarking, surveys, focus group discussions). It is transdisciplinary and transformative, including Universities, non-University research institutes and a diverse set of stakeholders.
Call Objective: Current patterns of global development based on people’s continuous extraction and exploitation of natural resources are not sustainable, and a societal transition to systems of sustainable consumption and production (SSCP) is urgently needed.

Call themes:

Theme 1 – Transdisciplinary research to help transition to green economies with sustainable systems of consumption and production
Theme 2 – Sustainable and Resilient industries and their governance systems
Theme 3 – Social Inequality and Environmental Justice
Theme 4 – Integrating new technologies, policies, and practices into everyday life




Duration: 36 Months
Call Date:
Project Award Date: