Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and Innovation

Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and Innovation

The Copernicus Institute aims to support the search for sustainable development and innovation through the development of knowledge, methods and instruments. A specific character of the institute is the combination of developing solid scientific knowledge and experience in the field of specific technical and scientific issues as well as the field of processes of change and innovation. The Copernicus Institute houses a wide range of disciplines, with researchers from the natural and social sciences. There is input from the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, technology, economy, ecology, hydrology, soil science, geography, environmental sciences, innovation science, sociology, policy science, and business studies. Additional input is also guaranteed by the close relationship the institute has with the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) through two endowed chairs occupied by the director and a senior researcher of the MNP at the Copernicus Institute.

Company details

Utrecht University PO Box 80115 , Utrecht , 3508 TC Netherlands
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Business Type:
Research institute
Industry Type:
Market Focus:
Globally (various continents)


Since 1992 the issue of sustainability found its way amongst others in the policies of the governments, the management of companies and in a number of research and education programmes. The Association of European Universities initiated a programme called 'Cooperation Programme in Europe for Research on Nature and Industry through Coordinated University Studies” (COPERNICUS) focussed on the role universities can have to help society in the further implementation of agenda 21.

As a contribution to the COPERNICUS charter, the initiative was taken to bundle and strengthen the research in the field of sustainable development at the Utrecht University. The main aims were to facilitate collaboration in research, and to create more harmony between research and education. Thus, the Copernicus Research Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovation was established in 2001 by the board of Utrecht University, the faculty of Geographical Sciences, the faculty of Chemistry and four departments of these faculties. The four constituent departments are: Environmental Science, Environmental Studies and Policy (both founded in 1978), Innovation Studies (founded in 1999) and Science, Technology & Society (founded in 1987).

Sustainable Development and Innovation

Within the Copernicus Institute sustainable development is broadly defined, in line with e.g. the report of the World Commission of Environment and Development (Brundtland report, 1987), the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002). The concept of sustainable development primarily refers to a development of our economy and society that can be maintained. The issue is not so much finding final situations in which sustainability is realised, as there is no fixed final situation. Striving for economic prosperity is as legitimate as striving to protect nature and the environment and striving for social justice, both across generations and within them. For each dimension of the issue of sustainable development – economic, social and ecological – there are questions about which values, goals, and principles are to be used, as well as about the effectiveness, efficiency, and justice of developing and applying options. Exploring sustainable development means investigating these questions in connection to each other. In this context innovation is defined as the process that turns scientific and technological knowledge into products, services and solution to societal problems that contribute to a more sustainable society.