My Approach

Sustainability: Imperative and Opportunity

The question today is no longer if society is facing a radical transformation, but about how it is going to happen: by design or by disaster? (Wackernagel 2014).

If we want to take part in designing this transformation then we choose transformation towards sustainability. It is imperative and offers opportunity at the same time:


… because it is about dealing with crisis scenarios, that endanger a peaceful coexistence and, at worst, the existence of mankind and nature itself.

It‘s not only the climate crisis or the diminishing biodiversity, that are part of today‘s »multiple crisis« (Ulrich Brand 2009), but also the financial crisis, the crisis of democracy, social polarising and increased military armament.

Historically, distinct social inequality (concerning the distribution of power, wealth etc.) and maintaining ideological thinking patterns are some of the crucial reasons for the collapse of societies (Diamond 2005; Motesharrei/Rivas et al. 2014).

Meanwhile cultural diversity is as important for the resilience of a society as biodiversity is for ecosystems (UNESCO 2001). Cultural diversity (among other things) space for alternatives. »Plural economics« is more sustainable than »neoliberal monoculture«.


… because it‘s about the question of ‘the good life’. What we call economic growth is mainly based on the externalisation of costs (Lessenich 2017) that are not included in the final account.

At the heart of »the good life« there is internal and external balance with nature. Not economic growth. It requires more cooperation and solidarity instead of focusing on competition and status. There can be no good life at the expense of others including the coming generations. No good life can be heteronomous. This is why sustainability means more than renunciation.

The good life has to be constantly renegotiated because within one neighbourhood there are already different concepts of it. Conversely, »the good life« doesn‘t have to be continually reinvented. We can learn from other (sub-)cultures. In Latin America »the good life« (Buen Vivir) is the way indigenous people have been living for centuries. They prefer cooperating within free competition (Acosta 2016). Within our society the good life is being explored through experimentation and being practised in niches, such as urban gardening projects, in regional economic circulations or in pedestrianised cities like Copenhagen (Gehl 2010).


About The Great Transformation

For a transformation towards sustainability the journey is at least as important as the destination.

A top-down and centrally regulated society is part of the problem. Transformation can begin on your doorstep and be pushed forward locally (Brocchi 2019a). How would it be if every street, every neighbourhood, a whole university or a complete community served a common good being redesigned and administrated by its respective users (inhabitants, workers, students…) together, according to the good life? Transformation towards sustainability presupposes the redesign of social relations and a different relation between institutions and citizens. But, how can you get the different stakeholders to cooperate instead of competing with each other? How can public-citizen-partnerships be established instead of public-private-partnerships? There is no silver bullet to effect transformation. In part because individuals, organisations and cities have their own way and ideas (WBGU 2016). This is why transformation should be understood as an individual and collective learning process. Shared real laboratories and »playgrounds« like »The Day of The Good Life« can facilitate that just like external moderation and scientific supervision.

Three important findings:
    • »Social capital« is more important for transformation towards sustainability than »economic capital«. Trust, mistrust and group dynamics play a central role in transformation processes. »Social capital« needs room for encounters, »neighbourhood living rooms« as well as public rooms as community rooms.
    • Transformation should correspond to human measures. People identify more with the local than with the global, more self-created than imposed upon them.
    • To see real transformation there must be more, not less, democracy. Without social justice there can be no sustainability (Brocchi 2019b).


The cultural dimension

People don‘t necessarily do, what they know is right (Leggewie/Welzer 2009).

In public administration alternative methods cannot be adopted if outdated doctrines and hierarchies are clung on to. Social stakeholders cannot see the value in sharing if they have been taught to compete and to serve themselves first. Crisis in society also has cultural roots therefore cultural transformation is essential. »Cultures of sustainability« excel in »linked thinking« (Vester 2002) instead of »separation thinking«. Three important findings:

  • Learning processes don‘t happen if one stays within their comfort zone or »among themselves«. One needs to be open to a dialogue with the unfamiliar. Changing perspective is a strong driving force for transformation. The arts are one way of doing this.
  • Equal exchange of perspectives requires peer to peer dialogue. This is why we need social equalisation. Translators, »builders of bridges« and moderators play an important role in this.
  • The medium itself is the message. A hierarchic organisation cannot stimulate a strong participation in a credible way. We need working examples of diversity and of the good life in order to inspire others. Communication is especially compelling when the verbal message is in tune with the nonverbal one ( habitus, behaviour…).



  • Acosta, Alberto (2016): Buen vivir. Vom Recht auf ein gutes Leben. München: oekom.
  • Brand, Ulrich (2009): Die Multiple Krise. Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
  • Brocchi, Davide (2019a): Große Transformation im Quartier. Wie aus gelebter Demokratie Nachhaltigkeit wird. München: oekom.
  • Brocchi, Davide (2019b): Nachhaltigkeit und soziale Ungleichheit. Warum es keine Nachhaltigkeit ohne soziale Gerechtigkeit geben kann. Wiesbaden: Springler.
  • Diamond, Jared (2005): Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. London: Penguin.
  • Gehl, Jan (2010): Cities for Peopla. Washington: Island Press.
  • Leggewie, Claus; Welzer, Harald (2009): Das Ende der Welt, wie wir sie kannten. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.
  • Lessenich, Stephan (2017): Neben uns die Sintflut. Die Externalisierungsgesellschaft und ihr Preis. München: Carl Hanser.
  • Motesharrei, Safa; Rivas, Jorge; Kalnay, Eugenia (2014): Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics 101/2014, S. 90-102.
  • UNESCO (2001): Allgemeine Erklärung zur kulturellen Vielfalt. Paris: UNESCO.
  • Vester, Frederic (2002): Die Kunst vernetzt zu denken. München: dtv.
  • Wackernagel, Mathis (2014): 12 Fragen an … 12 Questions to …. Mathis Wackernagel. In: Gaia 23/1, S. 6-7.
  • WBGU (2016): Der Umzug der Menschheit: Die transformative Kraft der Städte. Berlin: WBGU.


Many thanks for the translation to Katherine Moseley and Annette Schwindt.

For inspiration

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