The Research

The Telecoupling Approach

Human consumption of food and agricultural products has a significant impact on the environment and the societies in the regions where they are produced. Given Europe’s large and growing land-use footprint abroad, Europe has a special responsibility to develop concepts and tools needed to achieve sustainability in an interconnected world. Different sectors, consumers, businesses and politicians are increasingly demanding more environmental and social sustainable land-use both inside and outside Europe.

Yet, there is increasing recognition of the limitations of current research approaches to adequately understand and address the increasing complexity of land system dynamics, which are often characterised by strong non-linearity, feedback mechanisms, and local contexts, and where places of production, trade, and consumption of land-based products are increasingly separated. Land systems are increasingly coupled across large distances via flows of biomass, capital, information and regulations. Given that distal couplings are often key in shaping how land is used, a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs is needed.

Example of a telecouplings


For this reason, a team of researchers, coordinated by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, has developed a European training network in order to better integrate research, innovation and social responsibility framed around the concept of telecoupling.

COUPLED will train Early Stage Researchers  (ESRs) capable of:

  • understanding processes and actors that influence land-use in an increasingly interconnected world
  • considering distant, unexpected feedbacks and spillovers and to account for their social and environmental impact
  • fostering new and enhanced governance measures that can shape land-use couplings to deliver more sustainable outcomes of land use decisions

COUPLED will substantially advance our understanding of telecoupling linked to land-use:

  • COUPLED will create a strong and rich empirical base of case studies rooted in the telecoupling framework.
    The telecoupling framework is potentially very powerful but to date remains largely conceptual, with few empirical studies. COUPLED will systematically apply the telecoupling framework in 15 individual research projects, many of which will be grounded locally.
  • COUPLED will provide a major push towards a more holistic, yet also more concrete theoretical foundation of telecoupling research.
    COUPLED will contribute to theory building in telecoupling research both via the individual ESR projects and a synthesis across ESR projects, and be coordinated and driven by the senior scientists in the network which have world-leading reputations and work at the forefront of their respective discipline areas.
  • COUPLED will demonstrate the usefulness and power of the telecoupling framework to practically address sustainability challenges related to land-use.
    By working closely together with non-academic institutions, companies, NGOs, and public sector organisations, both at the network level and in the individual ESR projects (via secondments and cooperation with stakeholders), COUPLED will ensure transferability and appropriateness.

The Training

The COUPLED training programme allows the ESRs to proactively and effectively address sustainability challenges in the context of, for example, raw material sourcing, supply chain responsibility, policy making for avoiding undesirable and unexpected impacts, predicting the impacts of changing consumer preferences, detecting and avoiding spill-over effects, and developing efficient tools for governments and businesses to lessen environmental impact, improve equity, and achieve development goals.


  • To provide a stimulating and creative learning environment in an interdisciplinary research training programme that focuses on building a broad knowledge on land-use and its implications for sustainability
  • To foster the individual career of each ESR via training towards goals set in Personal Career Development Plans and training in cross-cutting topics in land system and sustainability science
  • To engage the ESRs in transdisciplinary experiences with targeted secondments to practice communities, companies, and NGOs and enhance collaboration among COUPLED beneficiaries, partners, and collaborators from the conceptualisation of ESR research and training to its delivery
  • To provide the ESRs with an analytical toolset, encompassing qualitative, quantitative, place-based, and flow-based tools, to understand land-use and sustainability in an interconnected world
  • To provide the ESRs with lifetime skills and optimum opportunities to extend their international network available to them throughout their professional careers
  • To provide outstanding complementary training in transferable skills (e.g. presentation techniques, networking, publishing, and outreach) as well as leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurial skills

Go to Training and have a look at the training courses.