Special Issue "Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Human Geography and Social Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Tuuli Hirvilammi

Guest Editor
Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University
Prof. Max Koch
Website
Guest Editor
Lund University, Socialhögskolan
Interests: political economy; social policy; sustainability; welfare; degrowth

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Environmental sustainability literature has not paid much attention to welfare issues. However, this is necessary as ambitious climate policy targets, for example, have distributional consequences that threaten to make them unpopular amongst the electorate. Conversely, much current welfare and social policy literature continues to gravitate around the crisis and corresponding recalibrations of the welfare arrangements that were developed in the post-war era. Ecological concerns such as climate change keep being largely ignored.

The emerging approach of ‘sustainable welfare’ has begun to integrate environmental sustainability and social welfare research and has demonstrated that, on a finite planet, Western production and consumption patterns, as well as its welfare standards, cannot be generalized globally. At the same time attempts to absolutely decouple GDP growth, resource use, and greenhouse gas emissions have largely failed. As highlighted in degrowth/postgrowth literature, a significant reduction of the matter and energy throughput of the economy in the rich countries is required in order to make their production and consumption patterns compatible with planetary boundaries and to safeguard wellbeing in the future.

The provision of ‘sustainable welfare’ has in general terms been defined as satisfaction of human needs within planetary limits, in a global and intergenerational perspective. An institutional compromise for a sustainable welfare society would need to go beyond existing institutions and welfare regimes. However, further interdisciplinary research is needed to broaden and deepen the theoretical concept of sustainable welfare, thereby systematically accounting for environmental and intergenerational concerns. Elaborated ‘eco-social policies’, which may help re-embed the rich countries into planetary limits, are also required at transnational, national, and local levels. 

In asking what it requires to make welfare societies ecologically sustainable, this Special Issue regards the current financial, economic, and political crisis and the corresponding adjustments in existing welfare state institutions as an impetus to also consider the environmental crisis and reach beyond the growth imperative. Are there, for example, indications that particular welfare configurations are in a better position to provide environmental sustainability than other welfare state types? What is the current relationship between wellbeing, economic growth, and environmental impacts? How can wellbeing be ensured while reducing material and energy use? And how is ‘sustainable welfare’ related to concepts such as ‘sustainable development’ or degrowth?

We particularly invite papers that

  • develop theoretical perspectives on welfare and wellbeing within environmental limits;
  • provide empirical studies that combine sustainability and welfare perspectives;
  • identify and discuss (emerging) eco-social policies for sustainable welfare beyond growth.

Dr. Tuuli Hirvilammi
Prof. Max Koch
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • environmental sustainability
  • social welfare
  • sustainable welfare
  • eco-social policies
  • degrowth

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth
Sustainability 2020, 12(5), 1824; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12051824 - 28 Feb 2020
Abstract
The history of welfare states is tightly linked to industrial capitalism and a mode of regulation where production and consumption patterns increased in parallel [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Mapping Different Worlds of Eco-Welfare States
Sustainability 2020, 12(5), 1819; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12051819 - 28 Feb 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Attention towards topics such as environmental pollution, climate change, or biodiversity has strongly increased in the last years. The struggles to balance market powers and ecological sustainability somehow evoke memories of the early days of European welfare states, when social protection emerged as [...] Read more.
Attention towards topics such as environmental pollution, climate change, or biodiversity has strongly increased in the last years. The struggles to balance market powers and ecological sustainability somehow evoke memories of the early days of European welfare states, when social protection emerged as a means to prevent industrial capitalism from disruptive social tensions due to excessive social inequalities. In fact, social and environmental crises are inseparably intertwined, as ecological destruction is likely to be followed by social deprivation, and a lack of social security can be a crucial barrier for ecologically sustainable action. Our paper seeks to provide a step towards such an integrated perspective by studying problem pressure and public interventions in the area of green welfare, that is, in social and environmental protection. By using available data from Eurostat and Environmental Performance Index (EPI) databases, we contrast environmental and social performances to detect links between the social and the ecological dimension in these areas and unearth different configurations of green welfare among European countries. Our findings suggest that there are different “worlds of eco-welfare states” which only partially overlap with the more conventional “world of welfare states” but show how the Nordic countries are in the relatively-better performing cluster. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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Open AccessArticle
Frame Disputes or Frame Consensus? “Environment” or “Welfare” First Amongst Climate Strike Protesters
Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 882; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12030882 - 24 Jan 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Present debates suppose a close linkage between economic, social, and environmental sustainability and suggest that individual wellbeing and living standards need to be understood as directly linked to environmental concerns. Because social movements are often seen as an avant-garde in pushing for change, [...] Read more.
Present debates suppose a close linkage between economic, social, and environmental sustainability and suggest that individual wellbeing and living standards need to be understood as directly linked to environmental concerns. Because social movements are often seen as an avant-garde in pushing for change, this article analyzes climate protesters’ support for three key frames in current periods of social transformation, i.e., an “environmental”, an “economic growth”, and a “welfare” frame. The analyzed data material consists of survey responses from over 900 participants in six Global Climate Strikes held in Sweden during 2019. The article investigates the explanatory relevance of three factors: (a) political and ideological orientation, (b) movement involvement, and (c) social characteristics. The results indicate that climate protesters to a large degree support an environmental frame before an economic growth-oriented frame, whereas the situation is more complex regarding support for a welfare frame vis-á-vis an environmental frame. The strongest factors explaining frame support include social characteristics (gender) and protestors’ political and ideological orientation. Movement involvement has limited significance. The article shows how these frames form a fragment of the complexity of these issues, and instances of frame distinctions, hierarchies, and disputes emerge within the most current forms of climate change demonstrations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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Open AccessArticle
Reviewing the Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy’s Potential as an Eco-Social Policy in the Context of Quality of Work and Socio-Ecological Transformation
Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 859; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12030859 - 23 Jan 2020
Abstract
In the face of an increasing awareness of environmental issues and the urgent need to tackle them without shifting the burden onto the most vulnerable social groups, calls for a socio-economic transformation are growing louder. However, there is no consensus on what transformative [...] Read more.
In the face of an increasing awareness of environmental issues and the urgent need to tackle them without shifting the burden onto the most vulnerable social groups, calls for a socio-economic transformation are growing louder. However, there is no consensus on what transformative strategies should look like. Within the German-language literature one can broadly distinguish two transformative paradigms: the green economy paradigm, arguing for soft political steering mechanisms and technological innovations in order to green the current economic system and the degrowth paradigm, drawing the current growth-oriented economic system into question. In both approaches a tendency to marginalize issues of quality of work prevails. We argue that work is not only an integral part of one’s income, but also of one’s identity and psychosocial wellbeing as well as of social peace and cohesion and that it should therefore be at the heart of socio-ecological transformative strategies. We apply these theoretical considerations to the analysis of the Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy (SCWR), which is promoted as a holistic sustainability strategy paper. Additionally, we conducted expert workshops and interviews in order to analyze how stakeholders within the sectors with the highest CO2 emissions in Vienna perceive the SCWR in relation to work. We found that the SCWR does not live up to its potential as an eco-social policy as it remains tightly rooted within the green economy paradigm and does not account for the ecological dimension of work. The stakeholders’ perspectives on the SCWR vary according to the degree to which they are embedded within the green economy paradigm as well as their position within the economic system. However, generally the SCWR is not perceived as an eco-social policy and no connection is made between environmental issues and quality of work. We argue that transformative degrowth strategies could greatly benefit from making this connection explicit. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
Open AccessArticle
Money, Vouchers, Public Infrastructures? A Framework for Sustainable Welfare Benefits
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 596; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020596 - 14 Jan 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
While the social consequences of environmental policies are extensively evaluated in sustainability research, few studies exist on the ecological impact of social benefits and the welfare state. Sustainable welfare is a novel research field that seeks to close this knowledge gap and develop [...] Read more.
While the social consequences of environmental policies are extensively evaluated in sustainability research, few studies exist on the ecological impact of social benefits and the welfare state. Sustainable welfare is a novel research field that seeks to close this knowledge gap and develop integrated eco-social policies. Within this, researchers are starting to ask how citizen’s needs can be guaranteed in an environmentally sustainable way and how their welfare benefits should be delivered. Should citizens receive a universal basic income, be given vouchers for ecologically beneficial or socially needed goods and services, or be provided with access to socio-ecological infrastructures and services? This article develops a framework for sustainable welfare benefits with six criteria of sustainable welfare and nine different types of welfare benefits that belong to the domains of universal basic income (UBI), universal basic services (UBS), and universal basic vouchers (UBV). Using this framework, existing policy proposals are categorized and evaluated. The advantages and disadvantages of the different types of welfare benefits are discussed and new application areas highlighted. The analysis shows that a successful policy will likely include all forms of welfare benefits, with certain types being more adequate for certain fields and societal circumstances. The framework for sustainable welfare benefits can serve as a starting point for further research on integrated policy design and inform policymakers on the selection of eco-social policies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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Open AccessArticle
Eco-Social Divides in Europe: Public Attitudes towards Welfare and Climate Change Policies
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 404; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010404 - 04 Jan 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
In the face of accelerating global warming and attendant natural disasters, it is clear that governments all over the world eventually have to take measures to mitigate the most adverse consequences of climate change. However, the costs of these measures are likely to [...] Read more.
In the face of accelerating global warming and attendant natural disasters, it is clear that governments all over the world eventually have to take measures to mitigate the most adverse consequences of climate change. However, the costs of these measures are likely to force governments to reconsider some of their tax and spending priorities, of which social spending is the largest expenditure item in developed welfare states. Unless carried out in a way that is considered as fair by most citizens, such trade-off is likely to add a new, ecological dimension to the existing social cleavages in people’s preferences for public provision. Whether or not the possible tensions between the two sets of policies have already resulted in the emergence of a new, eco-social divide in Europe is an open question. In this paper, we hypothesise that there are four distinct attitude groups in relation to welfare and climate change policies, and that the probability of belonging to any of these groups is influenced by individuals’ socioeconomic and ideological characteristics, as well as the country context in which they live. We test our hypotheses using data from the eighth round of the European Social Survey conducted in 2016/17 in multinomial regression models. Results suggest that across Europe people are considerably divided in their support of public welfare and climate policies, but that support for both dimensions is highest in the Nordic countries. At the micro level, we find political ideology and trust in public institutions to be the most important drivers of a newly emerging eco-social divide. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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Open AccessArticle
The Virtuous Circle of Sustainable Welfare as a Transformative Policy Idea
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 391; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010391 - 03 Jan 2020
Cited by 5
Abstract
Welfare states are highly dependent on the economic growth paradigm. Especially in social democratic welfare states, growth dependence has historically been accompanied by the notion of a virtuous circle, which ensures that social policy measures do not conflict with economic growth. However, this [...] Read more.
Welfare states are highly dependent on the economic growth paradigm. Especially in social democratic welfare states, growth dependence has historically been accompanied by the notion of a virtuous circle, which ensures that social policy measures do not conflict with economic growth. However, this policy idea ignores the environmental impacts that are now challenging human wellbeing and welfare goals. In this conceptual research article, I reframe the virtuous circle of the welfare state by revealing its unintended consequences and internal contradictions before introducing a more sustainable policy idea. I argue that this new concept—a virtuous circle of sustainable welfare—could have transformative potential in designing a planned and socially sustainable degrowth transformation. Drawing on historical institutionalism, degrowth, social policy and sustainable welfare state research, I advocate for the virtuous circle as a heuristic tool to provide an appealing and convincing narrative for sustainable welfare state beyond growth. The policy idea of virtuous circle addresses interrelated institutional reforms and positive feedbacks between different institutions and policy goals. It also emphasizes that a holistic approach is necessary to avoid trade-offs and contradictions between social, environmental, and economic policies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainable Welfare in Swedish Cities: Challenges of Eco-Social Integration in Urban Sustainability Governance
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 383; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010383 - 03 Jan 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
In this paper, we study the integration of ecological sustainability and social welfare concerns in cities. Efforts to handle ecological challenges risk having negative impacts on equality and social welfare. While current levels of consumption and material welfare are unsustainable, there is a [...] Read more.
In this paper, we study the integration of ecological sustainability and social welfare concerns in cities. Efforts to handle ecological challenges risk having negative impacts on equality and social welfare. While current levels of consumption and material welfare are unsustainable, there is a need for more sustainable approaches to welfare and wellbeing. Still, ecological and social concerns in urban governance are treated as separated topics. Based on text analysis of policy documents and qualitative interviews, we study how ecological and social welfare concerns are being addressed and integrated into urban planning in three Swedish cities (Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö). Theoretically, the paper draws on conceptualizations of sustainable welfare, social and ecological sustainability, and policy integration. We find ecological and social welfare concerns being acknowledged as interconnected and we see signs of an emerging sustainable welfare agenda in the cities, e.g., around Agenda 2030. However, in practice, eco-social policy integration is only established to a limited degree, for instance in neighborhood development, transport planning, and green city planning. Issues of ecological justice and equity and the relationship between socioeconomic factors and consumption-related environmental impacts are hardly addressed. Thus, much remains to be done for eco-social policy integration to materialize at the urban level. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceArticle
Public Support for Sustainable Welfare Compared: Links between Attitudes towards Climate and Welfare Policies
Sustainability 2019, 11(15), 4146; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11154146 - 01 Aug 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
The emerging concept of sustainable welfare attempts to integrate environmental sustainability and social welfare research. Oriented at a mid-term re-embedding of Western production and consumption norms into planetary limits, it suggests the development of “eco-social” policies in the rich countries. In this theoretical [...] Read more.
The emerging concept of sustainable welfare attempts to integrate environmental sustainability and social welfare research. Oriented at a mid-term re-embedding of Western production and consumption norms into planetary limits, it suggests the development of “eco-social” policies in the rich countries. In this theoretical context, this article empirically investigates the relationships between attitudes towards welfare and climate policy in 23 countries. Using 2016 data from the European Social Survey, we explored patterns of synergy between both kinds of policies as well as effects of crowding-out, where support for one kind of policy involves refusing the other. Since previous research addressed the role of welfare states and their institutional foundations in establishing environmentally sustainable societies, we studied how attitudes towards welfare and climate policies differ according to welfare regime affiliation. Additionally, we examined how a range of socio-demographic and political factors such as class, education, income, and political position shape people’s views on welfare and climate policy goals. The results of a multiple correspondence analysis indicate that the simultaneous support of welfare and climate policies follows welfare regime lines in that this support is the highest among social-democratic countries. However, also some conservative and Mediterranean countries score high in this regard. At the individual level, people with a higher education, employees in socio-cultural professions, and voters of moderate left and green parties display the highest mutual support for welfare and climate policies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Welfare beyond Growth)
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