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Navigating sustainability transitions

The research group is engaged in inter- and transdisciplinary research on and for sustainability transitions. We relate our work to the concept of sustainability, such as the United Nations’ Agenda 2030. Our work focuses on the practical application, investigation and development of futures-oriented participatory methodologies, primarily backcasting, as well as approaches of science-society collaboration including societal labs. 

The United Nations’ Agenda 2030 “Transforming our world” contains 17 Global Goals for sustainable development. The agenda is transformative; It seeks to fundamentally change current unsustainable systems, structures and practices. It is also integrative; it connects the ecological, economic and social dimensions of sustainability, and calls for collaboration across actors, perspectives and disciplines.

The research field of sustainability transitions is growing rapidly internationally. Through inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration our group creates new knowledge on how to govern transitions, i.e., developing, testing and evaluating methodologies and tools to guide transition processes in society. The group has co-founded Chalmers Initiative for Innovation and Sustainability Transitions that during 2017 hosted the 8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference.

A backcasting methodology is central in the group’s work on sustainability transitions. It has been developed and used during the last 25 years in numerous transitional processes nationally and internationally. Backcasting starts from a principles-based understanding of the future, and has been recognized as as significant for realising Agenda 2030. Several of the backcasting cases have been conducted in “lab spaces” where actors meet across borders and together explore future possibilities around a shared challenge or question. Central in these “lab spaces” are processes of social learning that challenge incumbent systems and create space for new initiatives to come about.

Sustainability transitions are complex and uncertain fundamental change processes on a level of systems. The systems that are challenged are often locked-in e.g. current markets, technologies and behavior. Change in such systems cannot be planned in a traditional sense, but instead demand experimenting approaches in arenas and labs. In particular, the research group has developed the Challenge Lab​ located at a Science Park at Chalmers. Its methodology is now used in many other settings in Sweden and elsewhere. The group is engaged in comparative studies of various societal lab approaches with an interest in understanding qualities and features of societal labs supporting transformation processes. This includes systematic reviews as well as empirical case (comparison) work.

Senior re​searchers: 

John H​​olmberg


Key publications:
Holmberg, J., & Robèrt, K.-H. (2000). Backcasting from non-overlapping sustainability principles - a framework for strategic planning. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 7, 291–308.

Holmberg, J., & Larsson, J. (2018). A Sustainability Lighthouse—Supporting Transition Leadership and Conversations on Desirable Futures. Sustainability, 10(11), 3842. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113842

Larsson, J., & Holmberg, J. (2018). Learning while creating value for sustainability transitions: The case of Challenge Lab at Chalmers University of Technology. Journal of Cleaner Production, 172, 4411–4420. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.072

Schäpke, N., Stelzer, F., Caniglia, G., Bergmann, M., Wanner, M., Singer-Brodowski, M., … Lang, D. J. (2018). Jointly Experimenting for Transformation? Shaping Real-World Laboratories by Comparing Them. GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 27(1), 85–96.
https://doi.org/10.14512/gaia.27.S1.16
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Published: Wed 20 Mar 2019. Modified: Fri 22 Mar 2019