Professor Johannes Sauer, who leads the Chair Group Production and Resource Economics, discusses his team’s research and teaching priorities. The professorship is located at the TUM School of Life Sciences at Campus Weihenstephan in Freising.
What is the main goal of your current research?
As applied economists, the core research of our chair is focused on assessing new technologies and policies that aim at boosting food production while using natural resources sustainably. We research technologies and policies’ impacts on natural resources. We e.g. assess technologies’ level of productive and sustainable resources use, and feed this information back to engineers and business managers, informing their designing of productive, sustainable, and resilient agri-food technologies. Policy impact evaluation is also an increasingly important area in our work because policymakers need more statistical and verified evidence on the impact of their policies. Also, a special focus is on water resource management-related analysis and policy advice.
Our research projects are located all over the world with a strong focus on OECD and emerging countries (Germany, E.U., Asia, South America, and Africa). In international projects, we are very careful in research being a two-way knowledge transfer. In Europe and China, we have one extra focus: the transfer of the old economy to a more bio-based one (i.e. bio-based and circular economy).
What do you aim for students to learn in your classes?
What is most important for us is the applicability of the knowledge, theories, and methods we teach our students. It is also crucial that they learn to find the right theoretical concept and apply it to their research topic adequately in order to produce meaningful and robust empirical findings. They learn to evaluate production and resource-related technologies, collecting data to measure their sustainability and productivity, applying economic frameworks and principles, and using statistical and econometric tools.
We try to increasingly deliver this applicability in our courses and to interest the students in applying knowledge that would impact policymakers and technology producers’ decisions. The theory and methods are all there, but what we ultimately try to achieve is to practically produce results that are beneficial to society.
How can working across disciplines contribute to your work?
Interdisciplinarity is a very important part of our work. Weihenstephan is a highly interdisciplinary research environment, where we have a lot of collaborations with engineers, technology designers, and natural scientists. Many of our research projects require and include interdisciplinary thinking and setup.
While we evaluate technologies after they are already being implemented, we also have projects with engineers and natural scientists where we work closely with them to find and evaluate new ways of producing or preserving resources when the technologies are still in the designing stage. We also want to expand our collaborations with social scientists and others who focus on policy and ethics.
What do you see as the social relevance of your research?
We focus on producing leading research that is visible internationally, striving to create a societal and policy impact, to enable society to use resources more sustainably as it produces food. These are our principles: we produce evidence that helps policymakers redesign their policies in an attempt to support sustainability goals and productivity in a more effective way. We need more food of a certain quality, such food needs to reach more groups in society, and we need to produce this food sustainably, in a resource-efficient and resilient way. For example, when we use water while we do not have a resource-oriented pricing scheme for this natural resource, then society suffers shortages of water of a certain quality in the future.
As we consider such implications, our research benefits the whole of society as we use the economic way of thinking to make the use of resources more sustainable.
How do you see your work contributing to responsible innovation and research?
We aim to direct our whole research toward creating responsible knowledge about sustainable and productive innovation. The main focus of our research is assessing technologies and policies that assist in pursuing productivity and sustainability goals. We collect data on their performance in terms of sustainability and productivity that help us make statistically robust and qualified statements on what kind of technologies and policies might work for different contexts.
In addition to producing general published knowledge, we also try to directly influence policymakers and funding agencies. We try to disseminate draft research findings to impact policy at an earlier stage. In addition, we do expert advisory work for policy organizations including, for example, the OECD and the Asian Development Bank. So, we try to contribute and crucially impact responsible public policy design at different levels.