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SUSTAINABILITY TRANSITIONS

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Adapted from Geels 2002

What is it?

A sustainability transition is defined as a “radical transformation towards a sustainable society, as a response to a number of persistent problems confronting contemporary modern societies” (Grin et al 2010). Examples might include a transition from a colonial to a decolonized form of governance, from a fossil fuel based to a renewables based energy system, or from a capitalist economic system to one founded in  equity and ecological health. Historically, transitions take several decades and usually result in the creation of a new norm that fundamentally and irreversibly changes the way that society is structured and organized. In the theory of multi-level perspectives, a co-evolution of economic, cultural, technological, ecological and institutional developments is happening concurrently at different levels to create sustainability transitions that stick.

How is it used?

Many transitions have occurred historically, and are currently underway, for example the digital transition of society underway around the globe. Transitions can occur that take us away from a sustainability objective, or are agnostic to sustainability as they have different values or goals at play. This theory is useful when thinking about working on complex, adaptive challenges that have no clear path to a solution, and have many different dimensions to consider. The theory informs thinking and action when considering niche innovations, or small experiments, and how these may or may not scale to influence the larger landscapes and regimes that they are contained within, and also influence. This foundation offers some more theoretical rigour and academically researched cases that connect to scaling, or diffusion, of innovations.

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