Strengthening civil society sustainability initiatives is a key way of driving forward a socio-ecological transformation from the centre of society and thereby shaping it as a democratic project. Civil society sustainability initiatives engage with their ideas for sustainability in all areas of life. They range from self-repair bicycle shops and zero-waste cooking workshops to energy cooperatives and housing projects run by citizens. These initiatives develop, live and disseminate diverse concepts on how sustainability can be better achieved on a small and large scale. They therefore have enormous potential to break up habitual, unsustainable thought patterns and routines and to advance the socio-ecological transformation with their demands, projects and innovations. This research and participation project identifies societal and political hurdles that make the work of sustainability initiatives more difficult and develops suitable approaches to solutions that are primarily aimed at administration and politics (from local to federal level).

The solutions are intended to strengthen the effectiveness of sustainability work, enable the scaling of sustainability initiatives and better involve citizens who are not yet committed to sustainability. At the same time, it is also a participation project that strengthens democracy, because the relevant actors in sustainability initiatives, stakeholders from science, politics and administration as well as other citizens are involved and develop the solutions themselves. After an evaluation of the current state of research, promising and forward-looking civil society sustainability initiatives are invited to innovation workshops in order to identify obstacles to sustainability work and to develop appropriate solutions.

These will be further developed by the above-mentioned stakeholders and finally submitted to a citizens’ conference for further consultation. The resulting recommendations are then passed on to actors in administration and politics.

The great opportunity of this project is therefore not only that committed citizens can better implement and expand their previous efforts for sustainability and that the hurdles for currently inactive citizens are lowered. But ultimately it is also about strengthening democracy through sustainable change from within society.

Duration: 03/2021 – 01/2024
Client: Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit, Umweltbundesamt
Team: Prof. Dr. Hans-Liudger Dienel (Project leader), Uta Zetek (Deputy project leader), Dr. Thomas Blanchet, Katharina Fender
Project partner: Karte von Morgen, Stiftung Mitarbeit, Prof. Norbert Kersting (Lehrstuhl für Kommunal- und Regionalpolitik an der Universität Münster)

Photo: Toa Heftiba / unsplash