The research programme “Beyond GDP growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning” (www.bortombnptillvaxt.se) funded by Formas has gathered researchers from different disciplines to explore key issues and conditions for planning for a sustainable future where reaching environmental and social goals, rather than continuing to rely on or plan for economic growth, is in focus. This is a relevant contribution to a largely under-researched area, where few scientific studies have explored what a sustainable society and economy that is not based on growth might actually look like. A starting point in the research programme has been an understanding of the significant transition needed to approach a safe and just operating space for humanity within planetary boundaries. Four goals that should be met in order to consider the societal development sustainable were specified: two environmental goals related to climate and land use, and two social goals regarding power, influence and participation and welfare and resource security. Four scenarios for Sweden 2050 were furthermore developed, illustrating different directions society could take to reach the set sustainability goals, centered around four alternative strategies: Collaborative economy; Local self-sufficiency; Automation for quality of life; and Circular economy in the welfare state.
The scenarios should be seen as a tool for discussion and analysis when it comes to planning for a sustainable societal development, regardless of GDP growth. Several empirical studies within the programme have highlighted both the hindrances and the opportunities for more radical sustainability transition pathways, in line with strategies outlined in the scenarios. This touches upon e.g. institutional conditions, where expectations and general assumptions regarding growth provide barriers for driving transitions. Municipalities and companies to a large extent plan for and expect a societal development that builds upon a further expansion of infrastructure, transport and consumption. Despite visions for sustainable development, in practice this often leads to a reproduction of current unsustainable structures and ways of life. Other research insights however also point to the development of new forms of organizing the economy, society and welfare services. These ideas can be seen as windows of opportunity, but also show that change can happen within the current system.
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