Sustainable social innovations and grassroots movements

Analysing voluntary offers and movements related to sufficient behaviour

urban gardening
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Consumption of renewable resources (especially fossil fuels) in the global North exceeds the limits of what could be described as sustainable. Efficiency and consistency are the dominant strategies for overcoming unsustainable production and consumption patterns. This project focuses on a third strategy, without which sustainable production and consumption will hardly be achieved: sufficiency. Taking a sufficiency approach means actively reducing our demand for and use of resources, especially non-renewable resources, by adopting new perspectives on consumption and well-being. The project aims to shed light on the potential and the intermediary role of grassroots-based, voluntary offers and movements (which integrate social innovations) for the promotion of sufficient lifestyles as well as the reorganization of local and regional reproduction systems.

Research objectives

The project aims to:

  1. Identify existing voluntary offers and movements that promote sufficiency and help to reduce (individual) consumption without reducing well-being in Swiss cities and comparable cities abroad, and develop a typology of such offers and movements.
  2. Identify factors that support or hinder the emergence and the diffusion of offers and movements promoting sufficiency, and investigate how these offers and movements influence changes of individual behaviour.
  3. Analyse the role of public authorities and private institutions in the emergence and diffusion of voluntary offers and movements that promote sufficiency.
  4. Develop recommendations for new voluntary offers and movements promoting sufficiency, as well as for the promotion of promising existing examples, particularly for the City of Zurich.
The conceptual framework underlying the project (own illustration). Alias: Sustainable grassroots innovations


To achieve these objectives, we will first develop a conceptual framework that provides a basis for creating a typology of offers and movements. We will build on existing research on social innovations, grassroots movements, and strategic niche management. (z.B.  Jaeger-Erben M, et al. 2015. Sustainable consumption through social innovation: a typology of innovations for sustainable consumption practices. Journal of Cleaner Production 108:784-798.)

The second step consists of desktop research and interviews to identify and characterize existing, promising voluntary offers and movements. Their characterization will focus on two dimensions. On the one hand, we aim to assess their potential for promoting individual behavioural change towards sufficiency (II). On the other hand, we will assess their potential for diffusion – or, in other words, what the chances are that they will emerge from their niche and contribute to a broader transformation towards more sustainable production and consumption (III). In a third step, we will conduct empirical surveys and analyse what factors support or hinder the emergence and the diffusion of voluntary offers and movements promoting sufficiency. We will also assess their potential for inducing individual behavioural change. A last step will consist of a workshop with relevant actors to explore the role of external actors such as public authorities and private institutions in fostering and supporting offers and movements that promote sufficiency.

Funding: Energieforschung Stadt Zürich (City of Zurich Energy Research) FP-1.18

Project duration: July 2017 to September 2018

Further information:

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