THEME P | Political and Organisational Dimensions of Sustainable Prosperity

This theme explores grassroots transitions to sustainability, alternative enterprise forms, investment models for sustainable prosperity, and the range of political institutions related to the ‘ecological state’. At one level we explore the grand narratives of political legitimacy looking at the challenge of governance in the face of constrained resources. At the micro-level, we explore grassroots initiatives for change to see how alternative ownership and incentive structures can deliver a more sustainable prosperity. Browse through updates from this theme below. Read on for detailed information about the work programme.

Research Updates


We look at innovative activities related to sustainable prosperity in local communities, within organisations and businesses, and within the state. Our focus lies on examining the forms of governance and institutions at local, regional, national and international scales. We understand governance here as the processes by which rules and actions are produced, sustained and regulated, and the way in which these are enacted through institutions in the public, private and third sectors. This provides insights into how such transitions and innovations have emerged, the challenges and tensions faced, and the ways in which individuals, communities, organisations and governments can navigate their way to alternatives. The research is shaped by a dialogue with our partners including Social Enterprise UK, Aldersgate Group and World Futures Council.

Political and Organisational Dimensions of Sustainable Prosperity
CC.0 :: Geralt /

P1 :: Grassroots Transitions – Prefiguring Sustainability

Since the second wave of grassroots environmentalism emerged in Western societies in the 1970s, environmentalists have pursued grassroots initiatives in a way that prefigures what a sustainable society would be like in practice. This research explores the dynamics of associational activity directed at sustainability and examine the complex relationship between formal governmental systems and social movement initiatives. It does this through exploring traditions of small scale sustainability initiatives and the contested meanings to local community members and environmental activists. Prefiguration here is taken to refer to experimentation and creation of alternative social norms or ‘conduct’, and their diffusion. We explore these issues in a range of place based communities recognising the wide range of current community activities (Transition Town Movements, community energy, waste management, city farms etc). In recent years these ‘prefigurative projects’ have often been closely connected to public institutions through funding and collaborative planning and community engagement. This necessary engagement with the state has been the source of dilemmas and tensions within activist communities. The research is using qualitative methods (archival work, semi-structured interviews and observation) and social network analysis to map relations between grassroots groups, other parts of civil society and political bodies.

P2 :: Alternative organisational forms

While much debate is focused on large corporates, there is a need for further research on alternative ‘hybrid’ models that pose a challenge to conventional models of business combining the logics and practices of the commercial sector with a core social and environmental mission. Our research examines these alternative models and explores the interplay between different values and perspectives within organisations. Particular attention is given to community business models, working in partnership with Power to Change Trust, and to circular business models, working in partnership with Climate KIC. Research on the circular economy and social enterprise is being conducted in Nigeria and work has been completed on social enterprise models in Bhutan. The management of these alternative organisational forms raises specific issues and we are researching, in partnership with Social Enterprise UK, how mutual models provide an alternative to hierarchical systems, bringing employees and other stakeholders into more democratic decision making. We also examine the social, environmental and organisational performance of social enterprise models paying particular attention to procedures for accounting and measuring environmental and social value.

P3 :: Investment for sustainable prosperity

This project examines different alternative investment models for sustainable prosperity. While most small organisations tend to rely on their own funds, there is a growing industry of ethical and social investors. While some of these forms are similar to conventional investment models, others are radically different. There is also a growing involvement of the public sector in innovative funds for sustainability. Our review of this work explores the range of different approaches and the support ecosystem facilitate the effective use of sustainability related finance. Our partnership with the Aldersgate Group has led to the findings feeding into policy and practice in UK and around the world.

P4 :: Governance and institutions for sustainable prosperity at the micro and macro scale

Building on the other projects in this theme, here we explore the implications of redefining prosperity on forms of governance in general, and democracy in particular. This research is contributing to the debate about the ‘green state’ and assess how political institutions, culture and practices both challenge sustainable prosperity and create space for alternatives. Sustainable prosperity raises particular questions for the nature of democracy in the context of the need for urgent action related to averting environmental disaster, and the need to intellectual freedoms that challenge dominant interests and present social and political alternatives. It does this at a range of scales from the very local, to national and international institutions.

The transition to sustainability requires a general ethos of questioning, pushing boundaries, reflexivity and opening up new horizons. Such open, participatory and inclusive forms of governance allow processes of reflection, with a range of different voices. The relationship between democracy, reflexivity and sustainability is hence closely interrelated yet poorly understood. We explore the different process innovations and approaches to deliberative democracy, recognising that such political cultural processes are both potential inhibitors of change and a potential enabler. Our research is examining the nature of existing structures of democracy as they relate to different dimension of sustainability and resource use. This work would consider the institutional structure and governance interactions between public, private and third sector actors at a variety of scales.

We also investigate the different attempts to move towards sustainability through institutional arrangements, constitutional provisions, and general duties in legislation, at the level of the nation-state and devolved administration. This work is carried out through desk research and interviews, and in dialogue with others to make connections with the literature about “the ecological (or environmental) state”. It alsos feed into the Centre’s Nature of Prosperity Dialogue through exploring the relationships between environmental thought and democracy.


The Politics of Selection: Towards a Transformative Model of Environmental Innovation | Journal Paper by Daniel Hausknost and Willi Haas

January 20, 2019

Institutions for transformative innovation need to improve the capacities of complex societies to make binding decisions in politically contested fields, a new journal paper by CUSP researcher Daniel Hausknost and his colleague Willi Haas argues, proposing the design of novel institutions that integrate expert knowledge with processes of public deliberation and democratic decision-making.

This paper re-considers the link between democracy and ecological sustainability from a cultural angle: Marit Hammond argues that conceiving of both sustainability and democratisation as essentially cultural transformations resolves the puzzle and thus makes a renewed case for ecological democracy. Only as cultural processes can these transformations be deep-seated rather than superficial, and thus self-perpetuating rather than merely enforced.

January 4, 2019

What are the political foundations of an ecologically sustainable society? Can—or must—they be democratic? Absolutely ‘yes’ Marit Hammond argues, for sustainability is a moving target that requires a reflexive cultural ethos based on democratic values.

Circularity Thinking: Systems thinking for circular product and business model (re)design

December 10, 2018

How does one determine which of the many strategies associated with circular economy are appropriate to pursue? In this chapter Fenna Blomsma and Geraldine Brennan apply systems thinking to outline four steps that aid in identifying where and why waste is being generated in the current system, and what the available circular strategies are.

Sustainable value and trade-offs: Situational logics and power relations in a UK brewery’s malt supply network business model

September 4, 2018

Conceptualising firms from a business ecosystem, value-, or supply- network perspective captures the boundary-spanning nature of value creation. To explore the relationship dynamics that enable or inhibit sustainable value creation, we present a comparative case study of how situational logics and power relations are embedded in business models within a UK brewer and its malt supply chain.

Even the most perfect democracy can only represent the wishes of people currently alive. But how can the interests of members of future generations be safeguarded in political systems? This paper outlines different ways in which this could be achieved through reforms to the UK political system, and then looks in more detail at examples in other countries.

July 22, 2018

Even the most perfect democracy can only represent the wishes of people currently alive. But how can the interests of members of future generations be safeguarded in political systems? This paper outlines different ways in which this could be achieved through reforms to the UK political system, and then looks in more detail at examples in other countries.

Escalators visualising uplifting mechanism for growth

April 4, 2018

This paper focuses on the role of the public sector in addressing finance gaps for longer-term investment requirements from seed investment through to early growth commercialisation of green innovation activities. Peer reviewed literature is identified from international studies, complemented by illustrative policy documents where evidence of impact is reported.

November 21, 2017

As environmental crises become ever more severe, calls for authoritarian solutions are reappearing: Democracy, so the argument goes, has proven to be too slow to respond to urgent threats. In this paper, Marit Hammond and Graham Smith respond to this charge by revisiting the role of democracy within a transition to sustainable prosperity.

Prosperity Without Growth — Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow (Book Cover, 2017)

April 27, 2017

The publication of Prosperity without Growth was a landmark in the sustainability debate. This substantially revised and re-written edition updates its arguments and considerably expands upon them. Tim Jackson demonstrates that building a ‘post-growth’ economy is not Utopia – it’s a precise, definable and meaningful task. It’s about taking simple steps towards an economics fit for purpose.

October 9, 2016

This paper explores the ramifications of the combined crises now faced by the prevailing growth-based model of economics. In paying a particular attention to the nature of enterprise, the quality of work, the structure of investment and the role of money, the paper develops the conceptual basis for social innovation in each of these areas, and provides empirical examples of such innovations.

September 29, 2016

Understanding sustainable prosperity is an essential but complex task. It implies an ongoing multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research agenda. This working paper sets out the dimensions of this task. In doing so it also establishes the foundations for the research of the ESRC-funded Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).

Deputy Director
CUSP Director
Research Fellow
Research Fellow
Research Fellow
PhD Candidate
PhD Candidate
PhD Candidate
Research Fellow
PhD Candidate
Research Fellow
University of Westminster
University of Leeds
Stockholm University
Open University
Autonomous University of Barcelona
University of Sheffield
University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria
Visiting Researcher