Change through Trans-form

factory title Trans-form

There are fantastic ways to play with the factory title Trans-form. It is almost as if we were playing with the convertible action figures called Transformers. They have made it into video games and films. Transformation is part of some documentaries and dystopias. Even though the need for social change is almost an integral aspect of general knowledge nowadays, we are not capable of changing our production and consumption in a way that emissions, the use of raw materials and nature loss are reduced. This is the case despite the fact that worldwide efficiency, the number of innovations and productivity are continuously increasing. There are intelligent approaches and examples for the ecological design of products, for resource-efficient products that require less material and energy, both in their production and application. And there are also transformative and transformational products whose characteristics should bring about change towards more sustainability. However, the rebound effects, i.e. the compensation of improvements in efficiency through increased consumption, are evident. How change could nevertheless be achieved is the topic of this factory issue entitled: Trans-form.

Trend researcher Peter Wippermann, technology assessor Ortwin Renn and transformation designer Harald Welzer have different approaches to the interesting possibility of letting products disappear. Bert Beyers’s retrospective piece demonstrates that technological development transforms societies and the way we consume. Philosopher Bernd Draser examines which boundary conditions we can choose from if we want social transformation towards sustainability. The President of the Wuppertal Institute, Uwe Schneidewind, demands an increased application of transformative science. Eco-designer Ursula Tischner shows that the transformative design of products and user behaviour can play a part in making change happen. In an interview, the neuro-economist Peter Kenning talks about the biological conditions for our consumption patterns. The futurologists Klaus Burmeister, Holger Glockner and Maria Schnurr investigate how we can achieve a resource-saving lifestyle through system leaps. Marc Hassenzahl, psychologist, and Matthias Laschke, designer, are convinced that transformational products can bring about a resource-friendly lifestyle. Finally, media artist Claudius Lazzeroni from the workshop of good ideas explains by what means transformative and transformational products can be developed. 

The large number of contributions has already transformed this issue of factory. It is more comprehensive than we had planned. So we hope that you will also succeed in achieving change.

Ralf Bindel and the team of factory

(Translated from the German by Larissa Burkart, Mareike  Baudewig, Violette Beutemann, Sina Brauch, Kerstin Haep, Yvette Gossel and Catherine Zamniack)

More articles to the topic-range of transformation, transition and change you will not only find online than in our magazine Trans-form. The PDF-magazine contains additional facts and citations, is nicely illustrated and quite good readable on tablets and screens.

The Disappearance of Products


Worldwide, we use too much material and energy for our increasingly resource-consuming lifestyles. A transformation to increase sustainability via transformative products is no longer an option, but a necessity. However, there are different opinions concerning the design and effect of these products. We asked a panel of three experts for their opinion: Peter Wippermann, trend researcher, Ortwin Renn, technology assessor, and Harald Welzer, transformation designer. 

By Ralf Bindel

(Translated from the German by Inga Festersen)

Relationships instead of Products

In the eyes of the futurologist Peter Wippermann the smart phone is one of the transformative elements in modern society. In an interview with factory, he states that sometime soon, the smart phone will serve as the remote control for our daily life, spurred on by technological networking. In his opinion, the modern mobile phone computers are part of the overall cultural understanding and they lead to changes in resource consumption. Energy will become extremely important, he continues, but instead of the oil industry, the electronic industry will predominate.

However, transformative products play only a minor role for Wippermann. He finds it more interesting to abandon the classical idea of a product, and in fact to make it disappear. The smart phone is nothing but a device, the remote control is the display. For the trend researcher, the actual transformative product is the network. Relationships are the new big issue that will also lead to more sustainability. Wippermann explains that already today and especially in the future, everything, whether on a personal level or on a larger economic scale, is and will be about relationships. Even during the transformation process to a sustainable society, relationships play a more important role than products; the new buzzword is: the share economy. 

Relationships would work everywhere where networks exist, not only in industrialised countries. He points out that no country in the world does without networks. Basically, they are the realities where transformation takes place. He is convinced that today’s society is greatly influenced by networks and no longer by products, as was the case in industrial cultures. 

However, networking not only restructures the energy market, it also decentralises energy production instead of centralising it, as well as linking sources and consumers via a smart grid. Wippermann sums up by saying that crowds are treated like data packets on the Internet.

He thinks that networking is the actual transformation and the crucial step. The control and use of data, either for products in the industry 4.0, for car sharing or for the participation of the consumer as a prosumer, have had the greatest transformational effect. 

The fact that the prosumer emancipates himself from the classical production and becomes more autonomous does not affect the capitalist system. Wippermann says that only the old industries have to give up their sinecure. He considers networking the decisive transformative trend: the single product combines with other products, the individual connects things he could not have connected before. 

His conclusion is that products are no longer important, but their connectivity for transformation is. In the end, Wippermann defines transformative products stating that products which cannot be combined are not sustainable.

Taking the Rebound into Account

Transformative products are products that can initiate processes of change within the economy and society, such as a new means of transportation or new form of travel which would allow us to move beyond private transportation.

To be more precise: products are transformative when they help to provide services that are not only more effective, but also more comfortable than previously possible. They also provide greater sustainability when they contribute to dematerialisation or decarbonisation, hence reducing the consumption of raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions considerably. This is how Ortwin Renn defines it in an interview. He is a professor for technical and environmental sociology at the University of Stuttgart and a renowned technology assessment expert for the factory magazine.

In the interview, Ortwin Renn says that certain product concepts contribute to sustainability by creating more simplified devices, such as using a clothesline instead of a drier or recommending a shovel instead of an excavator. However, although these products promote sustainability, they are not considered to be transformative. These products are only transformative when they perform the desired service more effectively or more efficiently, but consume less in terms of materials and energy.

Ortwin Renn, also an expert for risk research, believes that in order to address major future trends now, all products that contribute to dematerialisation and decarbonisation are transformative products.

Peter Wippermann considers networking to be transformative, but Ortwin Renn is of the opinion that networking, like decentralisation, is only a means to an end. These means are sometimes effective but not always. The key question is whether or not they contribute to decarbonisation and dematerialisation. Where they contribute to decarbonisation and dematerialisation, sustainability is not a concern. According to Renn, networking might contribute to decarbonisation, but it is not guaranteed. Networking is not sufficient to serve as a design orientation, as it is depicted by the rebound effects that are caused by the increasing use of smart phones.

Renn goes on to state that the ‘Internet of Things’ will presumably be the next wave of IT transformation and that smart phones will become loyal assistants that are able to carry out intelligent tasks on an increasingly independent basis. Yet he assumes that the effect on the consumption of materials and energy will vary.

According to Ortwin Renn, this assumption not only applies to the industrialised world. He recently spent three and a half weeks in Africa and reports that everyone there owns a modern mobile phone. He states that mobile phones have become the most widespread devices worldwide, surpassing washing machines, transistor radios and electrical pumps.

Renn, who works as a technology assessment expert, believes that we will be able to feed new technologies and forms of communication into societies of the poorest countries especially via the mobile phone culture. This is due to the fact that mobile phones represent the only infrastructure that functions consistently nationwide. In developing countries, the necessary transformation process will be much more likely to proceed via mobile usage than in Europe. The new communication through mobile phone usage offers to the African population entirely new opportunities that would have been impossible 15 years ago. In these countries, the exchange of information through mobile communication is the key to innovation, education and development. Smart phones have become objects of prestige due to the fact that users constantly have to own the most recent models; however, according to Renn, this is not problematic. He states that as long as the drive to own the most recent model is accompanied by dematerialisation and decarbonisation, there is nothing wrong with the symbolic link between product and prestige. After all, the production of a smart phone consumes less material and energy than the production of a Mercedes.

What causes him greater concern are the rebound effects. Because of the higher consumption of materials and energy when more consumer goods are available, the rebound effects compensate for the efficiency revolution of transformative products. This, however, causes a problem: the production of transformative products alone is not sufficient. Transformative products have to come along with lifestyle changes in order to avoid overcompensation. Although there is an increasing trend towards more public transportation and car sharing in metropolitan areas and although cars have lower fuel consumption, overall mobility is increasing. This compares similarly with other consumer markets. In Renn’s opinion, the ability for transformational products to avoid the rebound effects through behavioural motivation remains a wishful thinking. He observes two effects: some people are driven by ambition to decarbonise even more when concentrating on eco-efficient products, while others act on the basis of the motto ‘conservation allows for more consumption.’

Spreading Simple Lifestyles

Harald Welzer, a sociologist and professor for transformation design at the Norbert Elias Centre for Transformation & Design at the University of Flensburg, is also sceptical regarding the rebound effects of transformative products. He even doubts that there are products that are able to avoid rebound effects. During the interview with the factory magazine, he states that as soon as new products are created, expense increases due to production, development, trial and implementation of such products. He is calling for the consideration of expense reductions instead of putting the cart before the horse. He says that we have to consider how we can avoid the unnecessary production of new products for the world marketplace, and also how we can considerably reduce the amount of products that have already been manufactured. Otherwise he would not be able to conceptualise the ability of products to function as transformative.

Welzer’s concern is the disappearance of products. Unlike Wippermann, however, he does not want to achieve this goal through digitisation and networking, but through transformation design. In his eyes, it is not the design of products that has to change, because “that just wouldn’t be enough.” His institute deals with the question of how modern societies can be shaped in order to regain perspectives for the future in matters of dealing with energy and material. “Since we urgently need a transformation of our lifestyle and of the consumption of resources in order to not end in disaster, we need modelled transformation or, in other words, we need transformation design.” Instead of creating a different product design, Welzer suggests designing a new social practice that is characterised by avoiding products and thus eliminating them. 

Replacing “some energy feature” is not enough in transformation design. The process of social change is rather about changing sociological circumstances as well as psychological ones. According to Welzer, sustainable development has had little effect so far. The sociologist states that ever since sustainable development has been in demand, material and energy consumption have been moving in a rather unsustainable direction. “It is possible that modern societies deal with the problem in precisely this way – they increasingly talk about the topic in order to avoid having to work on the problem itself.”

Of course, not all products will disappear due to transformation design. Those needed on a daily basis as well as food would still have to be produced under changed production conditions. However, even in the area of building and living we would have to ask how much space one is allowed to use up, says Welzer. The transformation designer is even more radical in the area of mobility. He says, “For some reason, our mobility seems to be a manifestation engraved in stone or decreed by divine command, thus being unchangeable, irreducible and irreversible.” According to him, it is one of the great unsolved riddles of humankind why we constantly produce increasingly better means of communication, but have an increasing need for mobility at the same time. Even technological developments such as the Hyperloop, a sort of mega pneumatic transportation system for people, that is supposed to reduce travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to half an hour, are the wrong way to go in Welzer’s eyes. “I believe it is a mental distortion to optimise processes in such a malformed society.” According to Welzer, the optimisation and adding of new technologies only lead to new problems.

However, Welzer is not a preacher of renunciation in favour of transformation. In his concept of the responsible consumer, everybody decides for himself what is needed for a high-quality lifestyle. “Contemporary consumer behaviour and all this imaginary innovation are techniques of disempowerment,” he says. Certain forms of communal production and consumption would lead to a higher quality of life and to less substance and energy consumption. “I don’t even know how this could possibly be considered renunciation.”

In a research project entitled ‘Von der Nische in den Mainstream’ (from niche to mainstream), researchers of the Norbert-Elias-Center want to analyse how these resource-saving forms of production and community emerge from niche areas and transform to social dominant dimensions. Even though more and more best practice examples are developing in niche areas, the conditions for their widespread implementation and their scaling have not been examined yet. “The big issue for transformation is scaling,” says Welzer. Many projects can only exist in niches and are not conceivable on a mainstream scale. Other projects such as cooperative energy production are scalable without problems. “For designing transformation processes, it is highly significant to know what is adaptable to the mainstream and what is not.”

More on the topic of transformative products and transformation design in the complete interviews with Prof. Peter Wippermann, Folkwang University Essen, Prof. Dr. Ortwin Renn, University of Stuttgart, and Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer, University of Flensburg, later on

More articles to the topic-range of transformation, transition and change you will not only find online than in our magazine Trans-form. The PDF-magazine contains additional facts and citations, is nicely illustrated and quite good readable on tablets and screens.

Historically effective: How innovation and technology transform


The London underground is 150 years old. In the beginning, nobody was really in favour of this innovation in mobility that drove through the tunnels with steam and open carriages. An essay on the history of technology from creative destruction through innovation to transformation by the Internet of things.

By Bert Beyers

(Translated from the German by Eva Maria Flucke  and Anna-Lena Vohl)

The year is 1863 when the Metropolitan Railway Company is starting to operate their first trains – underground in London. The world’s first underground. England was the motherland of the industrial revolution. And London was the biggest and richest city in the world. It suffocated in traffic. Thousands of carriages, hackney coaches and horse-drawn busses congested the streets. Hundreds of thousands of labourers lived in the city’s suburbs, because it was cheaper than living in the centre. Every day they had to go to the city – on foot. There was great need for a new efficient way of transportation.

But no one could imagine that trains could travel underground. Only Charles Pearson could. For years he beguiled investors, mediated between rival companies, and did PR work – which was desperately needed.

There was no experience, study or test in this field. London was one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The construction of the underground was like open heart surgery. Pearson had a lot of problems, and his biggest one was that the trains were running on steam power. Below ground level it smelled to high heaven. The tunnels were filled with smoke, and in the smoky tube stations, panic attacks of women and children were not uncommon.

Nevertheless, the first underground in the world was a success because it was cheap and for many people the only opportunity to get from one point to another. This is why there was a lot of money to earn with the Metropolitan Railway. It was only after 1890 – nearly four decades after the opening of London’s underground – that the problem with the steam engine was solved by the invention of the electric motor.

These are innovations that change people’s lives all at once. The fact that it took a lot of hard work is soon forgotten.

Innovations destroy

The railway – or more precisely the American railway industry – was also the favourite example of the economist Joseph Schumpeter, who dealt extensively with the role of innovation and the ‘creative destruction’ of the existing order. In the 1830s, the U.S. Government supported the railway companies through large land allocations. Together with the settlers, they expanded the U.S. towards the west. At the end of the 19th century, an enormous railway system covered all regions of the United States. Chicago was a child of the railway as well as Omaha, Fort Worth, Denver and many other cities. Hundreds of innovations were established, both small and large. Enormous amounts of money changed hands, and, due to the assistance of joint-stock companies, huge investments were possible. The new way of transporting goods sped up trade, and a coherent single market was created. Schumpeter considered this transformation not only as the result of technological advances but also from of historical progress – in which he was especially interested – and the changes in the markets whose parameters have to be adjusted accordingly. This reveals that technical advance is Janus-faced, because it solves problems while creating new ones at the same time. The boomerang effect was probably first described by the British economist Stanley Jevons in the mid-19th century. He said that it was a complete distortion of ideas to assume that the economical use of fuel would lead to lower consumption. It was, in fact, quite the contrary, as the general rule is that new ways of economy entail an increase of consumption – in many respects. Jevons gives the steam engine by James Watt as an example. It was approximately 17 times more energy-efficient than its predecessors, but it led to an enormous increase in coal consumption.

The boomerang effect plays a central role in the opinion of the philosopher of technology Jacques Neirynck. He demonstrates that progress normally creates an increased demand on the respective technical system and nature, because the access to more and different resources (e.g. deep-sea oil drilling) becomes possible, which usually causes the prices of goods to drop. But even when falling prices in saturated markets do not make a direct impact on demand anymore, i.e. when every household has a computer, television, car etc., even then efficiency can lead to increased consumption. Then the saved money will be invested in holidays – which is the indirect boomerang effect. At the end of the day, a tremendous and ever increasing pressure on the ecosystem of the earth remains.

Innovations socialise

The systems theorist Franz Josef Radermacher sees in this process a fundamental pattern that can be retraced throughout history. He considers the ‘superorganism of humankind’ as a system that generates, spreads and passes on knowledge. Organisation, technology and mastery of material play a central role in this. Bows and arrows as well as the modern plane are all materialised ideas. Each technical innovation results directly or indirectly in the fact that people live longer, communicate more with each other and continue to invent.

This is why nowadays we see great ideas for renewable energy sources, intelligent networks, and new concepts of mobility in cities, sustainable aquaculture, and smart materials everywhere. In addition, there is a comprehensive informatisation of life and the world of work. The Internet of Things is already in progress and consists of everyday objects, devices and goods that become addressable and can be followed through time and space. Cars, rooms, and entire areas of production are becoming ‘intelligent’. Mobile interfaces are omnipresent, and the invention of mobiles is followed by data goggles. And what happens next?

The history of technology and innovation of society and economy shows how our ancestors have repeatedly overcome limits. And despite all of the setbacks, catastrophes and wars, the number of people has continued to increase.

In the 21st century, this process is about to come to an end. The rapid increase in population over the last few centuries has already slowed down, and is expected to level out at nine or ten billion around mid-century. This will happen for various reasons: the industrialisation of the emerging countries, the scarcity of resources, and stress. Whether this will be a fairly peaceful transition is uncertain.


Gunkel, Christoph. Bei Abfahrt Erstickungsanfall. 150 Jahre Londoner U-Bahn. Spiegel Online, 10 January 2013.  (German)? (Attacks of suffocation upon departure. 150 years of the London Underground)
Grübler, Arnulf. Technology and Global Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.
McCraw, Thomas K.: Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Harvard: Belknap Press, 2007. Print.
Neirynck, Jacques. Der göttliche Ingenieur. Die Evolution der Technik. expert verlag GmbH: RenningenMalmsheim, 1998. Print. ?(The Devine Engineer. The Evolution of Technology)
Radermacher, Franz Josef and Bert Beyers. Welt mit Zukunft. Die Ökosoziale Perspektive. Murmann Verlag GmbH: Hamburg, 2011. Print. (Our World’s Future. An Ecosocial Perspective)

Bert Beyers is a writer and journalist in Hamburg, Germany. He frequently writes articles for factory; his latest contribution was ‘Columbus’ Egg’ in the factory issue entitled: BE(A)WARE.

More articles to the topic-range of transformation, transition and change you will not only find online than in our magazine Trans-form. The PDF-magazine contains additional facts and citations, is nicely illustrated and quite good readable on tablets and screens.

The Transformative Power of Science


Science often only observes processes of social change. Alternatively, it provides technological knowledge but does not get further involved. This is not enough to implement a transformation towards sustainable development. Science needs to become ‘transformative science’. It has to intervene actively in the process of social change. This influences scientific approaches and methods.

The point of view of Uwe Schneidewind

(Translated from the German by Kerstin Haep, Chantal Gruber, Olympia Klassen, Christoph Ulbert, Eva Maria Flucke and Maciej Maj)

To support processes of social change unerringly, three forms of knowledge are needed.

First, we need system knowledge. This is knowledge about the interaction of technology, economy, politics and society. An example is in the context of our energy supply system. Without such system knowledge, a turnaround in energy policy is impossible. System knowledge is the classical product of science. Nevertheless, it is rarely successful in building a bridge between knowledge in technological and social science. Indeed, there are many insights into technological options of the turnaround in energy policy, but there is less information about necessary participation procedures or innovative financing models. And research that combines both aspects is extremely rare. At this point it already becomes clear that transformative science must become more interdisciplinary than it is today. 

Second: in addition, we need target knowledge. Social transformation can only be realised if we have a conception of an aim. Such an objective would be 100 per cent renewable energy. But how decentralised should the renewable energy generation become in the future? Which combination of renewable energy is required? How much energy should be consumed in total and how much energy needs to be conserved by 2050? Without a clear objective it is not possible to create a process of change. Generally, science leaves these questions to politics. However, science can contribute a lot to target knowledge. It can develop consistent scenarios and provide ethical justifications of targets – all of these are scientific contributions. Thus, we need a close cooperation between science and individuals from politics and society to generate target knowledge. Interdisciplinary then becomes transdisciplinary – this means a connection of scientific knowledge with the (target) knowledge of the people concerned. Only this turns science into a catalyst for transformation.

Third: finally, we need transformation knowledge, which is knowledge about how to provoke change.

Such knowledge must not be scientifically abstract but ‘socially robust’. This means that the players on site are given accurate information about their actions. How do I organize the energy transition in my municipality as a policy maker? How do I support new ideas for mobility in my city? These questions need answers that are tailored to the situation on site.

From scientific labs to social living labs

Such transformation knowledge cannot be acquired by simply developing models in an ivory tower. Instead, just like with complex technical inventions, labs are required in which it is possible to test, work on and gradually improve new ideas. Such laboratories for processes of social change can be individual municipalities, for example, or districts as well as individual companies or sectors. In all of these ‘living labs’, processes of change can be tested, analysed and constantly optimised with assistance from scientists.

For this type of transformative science, we need scientists with enhanced capabilities that go beyond the methodical excellence of their own discipline. Training and experience are necessary to further the development of such capabilities. We need research and development programs for a corresponding science. All this is still in its infancy and has to be considerably cultivated so that science as well can become a driving force in a transformation towards sustainability.

Prof. Dr Uwe Schneidewind is an economist and the president of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

More articles to the topic-range of transformation, transition and change you will not only find online than in our magazine Trans-form. The PDF-magazine contains additional facts and citations, is nicely illustrated and quite good readable on tablets and screens.


Schneidewind, Uwe and Mandy Singer-Brodowski. Transformative Wissenschaft. Klimawandel im deutschen Wissenschafts- und Hochschulsystem (Transformative science. Climate change in the German science and university system). Marburg: Metropolis, 2013. Print. German.

Schneidewind, Uwe. Plädoyer für eine Bürgeruniversität (A plea for a citizens’ initiative). duz MAGAZIN Aug. 2013: 30-31. Print. German.
Wissenschaftlicher Beirat für Globale Umweltveränderungen (WBGU). Welt im Wandel – Gesellschaftsvertrag für eine große Transformation (World in transition - a social contract for sustainability). Berlin: WBGU, 2011.

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