Department Environmental Social Sciences

Globalization and transformations to sustainable development

The research group on globalization and transformations to sustainable development analyzes how socio-technical transitions play out in multi-scalar space and how they may be steered towards increasing sustainability. The group combines insights from economic geography, institutional sociology and sustainability science to understand the barriers and drivers for sustainability transitions in the urban water management and energy sectors. We formulate new ideas on how transformative change may be pushed at various spatial scales/ in various places around the world at once.

Main focus areas

Institutional barriers to transitions in urban water management
In the first focus area, we analyze the institutional structures from global to local levels that hinder/support the uptake of innovative solutions in urban water management. This work is based on two interrelated research projects on ‘global socio-technical regimes in the water sector’ (GLORIWA) and ‘institutional barriers to on-site water reuse’ (BARRIERS).

Global innovation dynamics in clean-tech sectors
The second focus area assesses how entrepreneurial actors create and exploit global networks to create supportive environments for clean-tech innovation. A key focus here is on global innovation system building and technology legitimation strategies that shape the uptake of renewable energy, on-site water recycling or direct potable reuse technologies in various parts of the world.

Transitions to sustainable development
A third focus area analyzes whether and how infrastructure transitions may be steered in the direction of increasing sustainability. We are developing a conceptual framework for analyzing the long-term transformation of coupled social-ecological and socio-technical systems. In this work we combine sustainability science’s frameworks for sustainability assessment in coupled human-natural systems with transition literature’s rich conceptualization of transformative change in socio-technical systems.



Christian Binz is the main lecturer in a master's seminar at the University of Zurich:

Geography of sustainability transitions


He also acts as a guest lecturer in two recurring courses:

Lund University (SE): INNN10 - Globalization and Innovation

Key publications

Hipp, A.; Binz, C. (2020) Firm survival in complex value chains and global innovation systems: evidence from solar photovoltaics, Research Policy, 49(1), 103876 (16 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.respol.2019.103876, Institutional Repository
Fuenfschilling, L.; Binz, C. (2018) Global socio-technical regimes, Research Policy, 47(4), 735-749, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2018.02.003, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Truffer, B. (2017) Global innovation systems - a conceptual framework for innovation dynamics in transnational contexts, Research Policy, 46(7), 1284-1298, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2017.05.012, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Anadon, L. D. (2018) Unrelated diversification in latecomer contexts - the emergence of the Chinese solar photovoltaics industry, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 28, 14-34, doi:10.1016/j.eist.2018.03.005, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Truffer, B.; Coenen, L. (2016) Path creation as a process of resource alignment and anchoring: industry formation for on-site water recycling in Beijing, Economic Geography, 92(2), 172-200, doi:10.1080/00130095.2015.1103177, Institutional Repository
Harris-Lovett, S. R.; Binz, C.; Sedlak, D. L.; Kiparsky, M.; Truffer, B. (2015) Beyond user acceptance: a legitimacy framework for potable water reuse in California, Environmental Science and Technology, 49(13), 7552-7561, doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b00504, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Truffer, B.; Coenen, L. (2014) Why space matters in technological innovation systems-mapping global knowledge dynamics of membrane bioreactor technology, Research Policy, 43(1), 138-155, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2013.07.002, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Truffer, B.; Li, L.; Shi, Y.; Lu, Y. (2012) Conceptualizing leapfrogging with spatially coupled innovation systems: the case of onsite wastewater treatment in China, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 79(1), 155-171, doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2011.08.016, Institutional Repository


GLORIWA assesses path dependencies in urban water management by analyzing the global actor structures and institutional rationalities that stabilize the current dominant design
The BARRIERS project aims at improving our understanding of the institutional barriers for radical innovation in UWM. It analyzes ‘lighthouse cities’ that experiment with non-grid UWM systems
Wings is an inter- and transdisciplinary strategic research program that strives to develop novel non-grid-connected water and sanitation systems that can function as comparable alternatives to network-based systems.
The Lighthouse Project focuses on visible examples of onsite and decentralised urban water management systems, which will play a key role in enabling sustainability transitions.