On 28 March 2019, DEEDS hosted its first workshop on the topic of “Social Innovation and lifestyle change for the decarbonisation of Europe” in Brussels. The importance of social innovation and citizens in the decarbonisation process of Europe’s economy and society was recognised in the final report of the High-Level Panel (HLP) of the European Decarbonisation Pathways Initiative (EDPI). The workshop was a means to identify and learn more about current knowledge gaps and to explore research and innovation (R&I) priorities of the European Commission for the next 5-10 years.
It once more became very clear that a transition towards a carbon neutral Europe will require deep changes in its economy, institutions, politics, society and people’s behaviour. The workshop underlined again the scientific consensus that these changes are needed in order to meet the 1.5°C temperature target of the Paris Agreement.
Joined by Beata Jaczewska, member of the HLP of the EDPI, we also had excellent inputs from business and research. Tanja Gaudian, from the electricity plant in Schönau, Germany, provided insights about the power, struggles and opportunities of community energy by one of the country’s first community owned utilities. In addition, Christian Klöckner from NTNU presented his research on the potential impacts of behaviour and lifestyle change for CO2 emission reduction.
Tanja Gaudian explained about the process involved in setting up the community energy project in Schönau as a reaction to the disaster in Chernobyl back in 1986: from being a small player in a rather captive market often favouring bigger companies, to excessive prices for using the established grid. The consensus among participants was clear that “if you do not fit into the existing market paradigm, it is hard to get things off the ground”, especially since the direct and indirect impacts of social innovations are often not quantified, as Christian Klöckner mentioned. Due to its intrinsic characteristic and embeddedness into human nature, social behaviour (such as saving more electricity by joining a community energy project) is hard to quantify and assess. Therefore, not much research is available about the actual potential to reduce CO2 emissions yet. However, it is clear that to accelerate lifestyle and behavioural change, well-tailored advocacy is needed. Nudging and gamification often don’t do the trick, therefore communication needs to be disruptive.
Joined by around 20 renowned experts in the fields of social innovation and lifestyle changes, we had lively discussions before breaking out into four working groups: policy innovation, impacts of social innovation and lifestyle changes, replication & duplication of social innovation initiatives, and equity aspects of the energy transition.
The workshop has shown that there is a clear lack of knowledge on the actual direct and indirect impacts of social innovation and lifestyle behavioural changes on decarbonisation. A first step into filling this gap, would be to compile a set of indicators which a centralised institution could use to map existing initiatives to enable learning processes looking into good and bad practices.
Research in the coming 5-10 years should also be directed towards developing efficient advocacy tools. These would ideally include education for sustainable development, training tools, nudging, disruptive communication methods and others. Lastly, more research about governance structures is needed to allow for social innovation processes to embed these into a coherent policy framework.
Read the full workshop report.