Prof. Dr Mark G. Lawrence

Scientific Director Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS)


Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, USA in 1969, Mark Lawrence is an American earth system and atmosphere research scientist. Since 2011 he has been Scientific Director of the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS) (formerly Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)) and since 2014 an honorary professor at the University of Potsdam.

Lawrence earned his PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. From 1993 to 2011 he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, first as a doctoral researcher, then as a postdoc and finally as research group leader.

Among other things, he has been co-chair of the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 (wpn2030) since 2020, a board member of the German Climate Consortium (DKK) since 2021, a member of the steering committee of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Germany (SDSN) since 2016, and a committee member of the VDI (Association of German Engineers), Interdisciplinary committee on climate protection and the energy transition (VDI-IGKE) since 2021.

Mark Lawrence has been a member of the German Council for Sustainable Development since January 2023.

Three questions for Prof. Dr Mark G. Lawrence

Let’s get to it: What does sustainability mean to you? What do you associate with the term?

Prof. Dr Mark G. Lawrence: “Sustainability” still has so many different definitions. Some time back, RIFS (then IASS) developed its own perspective on sustainability, an approach I have since adopted as my own. The way we see it, sustainability is a guiding concept to secure and foster humane living conditions for all people worldwide, in the present and future, and to facilitate restoring and preserving the environmental foundations to enable this.

What is your personal priority in your work as part of the Council for Sustainable Development?

The German Sustainable Development Strategy is a powerful instrument that promotes cross-ministerial collaboration to find sustainable solutions to the crises of our time. I want to champion the Sustainable Development Strategy, raise awareness and work with a wide range of stakeholders on realising it in practice.

In particular, I would like to see academia play a more prominent role in the development of sustainability policy. I want to bring the approach of transdisciplinary and transformative sustainability research into the RNE. After all, sustainability relies on the synergies of different types of knowledge – scientific, political and social, to name just a few.

In the context of sustainability, what do you believe will pose the greatest challenge in the coming years?

The greatest challenge is that there is no single greatest challenge in that sence, but rather multiple major challenges. Yet we have a tendency to focus on just one – on the one hand to make it easier for us to solve complex problems, and on the other because of our short attention span. In Germany, our focus falls mainly on the climate crisis. The climate crisis undoubtedly poses one of the greatest challenges of our time, but if we are to solve it sustainably in the broadest sense of the word, we also need to make progress on the other 16 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability is also justice, the fight against poverty, biodiversity conservation, healthy air, healthy food and so much more.

Curriculum vitae

Prof. Dr Mark G. Lawrence detailed CV available to download (PDF, 114 KB)


“How can I shape my life in a way that fosters sustainability? This question links individual action and social transformation. Helping to answer this question, especially through innovative evidence-based approaches, has driven me for years.”

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Photo: Andreas Weiss © RNE

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