Social-Ecological Transformation: Challenges, Design, Paths to Success

Konferenz Transformation2Green: Herausforderungen, Pfade und Gestaltung sozialökologischer Transformationen

How can energy, transport and agricultural transitions be supported? How can complex transformation processes that are linked to ambitious sustainability goals be shaped despite challenges and resistance? The "Transformation2Green" conference on June 19 addressed these questions.


The research projects „evolution2green“ and „Trafo 3.0“ have investigated the above questions as part of the  "Sustainable Management" funding line from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Together they presented their results at the final conference "Transformation2Green: Challenges, paths to success and shaping socio-ecological transformations" in front of around 100 participants from science, politics, business, and civil society.

Framework conditions and design approaches for sustainability transformations

In his opening speech, Dr. Ulrich Hatzfeld, from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) spoke about the special challenges of ecological transformation processes in today's society, where many people long for safety and stability. This makes it all the more important to "develop positive goals, as a major driving force for change is the hope for a better future".

In a joint lecture, project leaders Carl-Otto Gensch (Öko-Institut, Trafo 3.0) and Walter Kahlenborn (adelphi, evolution2green) presented the central results and conclusions from both research projects. They also addressed characteristics and influencing factors of transformation processes, such as the systemic character of such processes: Transformations bring together numerous aspects such as technologies, market structures, infrastructure, social practices, and political framework conditions. They also presented approaches for the promotion and design of such transformation processes. These include the development of positive visions for the future, the creation of innovation niches, and connecting key players (change agents), but also a structured exit from established, unsustainable structures (exnovation).

Over ten parallel workshops, the participants then discussed the concrete challenges and solution approaches for specific transformation fields. These included energy, (electric) mobility, housing, resource consumption, and the production and consumption of meat. There was also talk of possible lessons to be learned from the smoking ban in public places, which has successfully curbed harmful everyday practice.

Challenges of legitimising transformation processes

In an afternoon keynote speech, Dr. Daniel Hausknost from the Vienna University of Economics and Business spoke about the challenges that democracies face if long-term and often radical transformation processes towards sustainability are initiated. He first pointed out that the history of democracy is closely linked to the history of the development of prosperity, which is fossil fuel-based and therefore ecologically unsustainable. "Parliamentary institutions were more inclined to administer these fossil growth economies," said Hausknost, "but not to transformative momentum and the establishment of alternative societies. In view of this, he is banking on "strengthening direct-democratic instruments - even if they do not fundamentally guarantee greater sustainability. A democracy, by its very nature, is now open to results."

In a concluding panel discussion, Dr. Daniel Hausknost, Theresa Klostermeyer (Deutscher Naturschutzring), Prof. Dr. Reinhard Loske (University of Witten-Herdecke) and Prof. Dr. Rainer Grießhammer (Öko-Institut) delved into the topic "Transformation and Legitimisation." Key points of discussion were that politicians' failure to act due to alleged practical constraints could endanger democratic legitimacy in a representative democracy. "A prudent blend of direct-democratic elements with parliamentary democracy is essential," according to the panellists. The importance of attempting change, for example in "real" laboratories and through temporary and local legal regulations (regulatory innovation zones), was also emphasised.

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