Navigating sustainability transitions

The research group conducts inter- and transdisciplinary research on sustainability transitions. We focus on issues related to governing, navigating and leading societal transformation processes related to complex sustainability challenges and aspirations towards desirable futures.

Lighthouse and rocks

The research seeks to understand, develop and evaluate approaches, methods and tools used to navigate transitions in practice, related to fostering systems change and social learning. Areas of interest include backcasting expeditions, society-based laboratories, socio-technical systems, education and learning, and transformative leadership including inner capabilities, reflexivity and ethics.

The fields of sustainability transitions and transformation research are growing internationally. A backcasting methodology is central in the group’s work on sustainability transitions. It has been developed, applied and evaluated during the last 30 years in numerous transitional processes in Sweden and internationally. The group has co-founded Chalmers Initiative for Innovation and Sustainability Transitions that for example hosted the 8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference. The group hosts Chalmers’ UNESCO Chair for Education for Sustainable Development and has developed the Challenge Lab​, which was awarded the EAUC/UNEP GUPES Green Gown Award.

The group combines insights from theoretical-conceptual research with intense case- and process-based research. This also includes reviews, qualitative empirical comparison, and synthesis work to cumulate knowledge into generic qualities, mechanisms and features of sustainability transformation work that can be transferred across contexts. 

S​enior researchers: ​​

John H​​olmberg, Johan Holmén 


Senior researchers

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.

Holmberg, J., & Holmén, J. (2022). Higher Education Leadership: Cruise or Expedition? In H. Lotz-Sisitka & E. Rosenberg (Ed.), NORRAG Special Issue 07: Education in Times of Climate Change. Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training.

Holmén, J., Williams, S., & Holmberg, J. (2022). Comparing sustainability transition labs across process, effects and impacts: Insights from Canada and Sweden. Energy Research & Social Science, 89, 102522.

Holmén, J., Adawi, T., & Holmberg, J. (2021). Student-led sustainability transformations: Employing realist evaluation to open the black box of learning in a Challenge Lab curriculum. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 22(1).

McCrory, G., Holmén, J., Schäpke, N., & Holmberg, J. (2022). Sustainability-oriented labs in transitions: An empirically grounded typology. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 43, 99–117.