Promoting sustainable lifestyles, social innovation and wellbeing in Europe: lessons from three large-scale interdisciplinary projects



Prof. Ricardo Garcia-Mira & Dr. Adina Dumitru


The need for a societal transition towards sustainability requires the concerted action of a variety of stakeholders and a keen understanding of the factors supporting or hindering the processes composing it. Transformative social innovation, defined as innovation that aims to achieve broad societal change, can be a key element in achieving sustainability. Profound changes in lifestyles are needed to achieve sustainable, smart and inclusive societies. The contemporary intertwined challenges of climate change, raising inequality, alienation, and decreasing wellbeing require applied and transdisciplinary approaches to knowledge generation and Environmental Psychology has a key role to play in the understanding of these processes of societal change.


Through a series of international interdisciplinary research projects we have sought answers to the questions of: how do psychological factors interact with economic, political or technological ones in determining sustainable lifestyle change and transformations towards a green economy? How can we promote sustainable lifestyle change that also leads to enhanced wellbeing? What drives people towards environmental long-term activism and what is the role of human agency and empowerment in societal transformation towards sustainability? What role do sustainability and social innovation initiatives and networks play in processes of sustainable transformation? What are the effects of being a member of sustainability initiatives in terms of environmental impact and wellbeing? How can we best measure and evaluate interventions targeting urban sustainable change efforts towards sustainable transformation and what indicators are most appropriate? We will bring evidence from three large scale European projects to provide some answers to these questions.


The GLAMURS project has adopted an innovative and systemic approach to lifestyles, considering them to be patterns of time use in daily life domains and contexts, that take place in given locations and have associated consumption patterns, rather than a simple sum of independent behavioral choices. How people structure their everyday life, how they make decisions regarding their work, home and leisure life, and what brings them happiness and wellbeing have important consequences for sustainable lifestyles. Instead of focusing on European citizens´ consumption patterns and attempting to change them, a piecemeal approach that has not delivered expected results, we have inquired into how the ways in which everyday life is organized might actually create obstacles, but also possibilities for change.


In order to provide a comprehensive account of the conditions and dynamics for sustainable lifestyle and economic transformation in Europe, GLAMURS has:


  • Explored the complex interactions and links among economic, social, cultural, political and technological factors influencing sustainable lifestyles and transformations to a green economy across societal levels (from individual to social, and from micro- to macro-economic levels).
  • Developed and evaluated comprehensive models of lifestyle change at a European level in key sustainability domains, and
  • Provided assessments of these models in terms of psychological, social, economic and environmental effects.


The project studied and compared across seven European regions and six lifestyle domains that are relevant for sustainability, and the project´s focus was on both regular citizens as well as frontrunners of sustainability, by including sustainability initiatives in each region that have established as their objective to influence several or all of the above-mentioned domains: food and energy cooperatives, repair cafes, transitions towns, ecovillages, sustainable clothing cooperatives, a governmental work-smart programme and a whole bio-region have been among studied cases, and results provide insights into conditions for transitions to sustainable regions.


Social innovation has become a hot topic in policy discourses (Haxeltine et al., 2016). The European Project TRANSIT (Transformative Social Innovation Theory) aims to develop a middle-range theory of transformative social innovation (TSI) through a combination of deductive theoretical reasoning and extended empirical research on 20 transnational networks of social innovation (SI) initiatives, and around 80 local initiatives in Europe and Latin America. It has set itself the theoretical challenge of resolving the linkages and feedbacks between individuals, social activities and the wider socio-material context in which social innovation takes place. It thus adopts the view that SI initiatives can have transformative ambitions, but social change is the result of coproduction, through complex interactions among diverse actors, objects and ideas in a given socio-material context. Theoretical resources from transition studies, social innovation and social psychology are used, among others, to inform research.


The idea of nature-based solutions (NBS) has emerged as both a challenge and an opportunity to assist urban communities in the transition to sustainability. But nature-based solutions are still a complex problem for many city-makers, and there are still many obstacles (physical, cultural, ecological, legal, etc.) to embedding these kinds of solutions into urban planning, policy frameworks, and innovative city design. Individually, cities have been experimenting and testing site-specific solutions and strategies (from micro to macro scale) over the decades and that continue to be living examples of effective urban successful transition strategies.


Connecting is a H2020 European project that aims to create an open innovation ecosystem approach in cities across the world, by bringing together city governments, SMEs, academia and civil society to co-produce usable and actionable knowledge on nature based solutions and their benefits in cities. A series of European cities, as well as non-European ones are involved in the project, as frontrunner, fast-follower or multiplier cities that will be involved in large-scale demonstration of nature-based solution implementation, through a process that is participatory and involves city-to-city learning. Besides such demonstrations, the project aims to develop and test a truly global, comprehensive and robust mechanism that will be used to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of nature-based solutions implementation in cities, with regards to five impact categories: climate change adaptation and resilience; 3 health and wellbeing; social cohesion; economic development potential; and green business opportunities.



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