Integrated scenarios within the scope of the national sustainability strategy

As part of a project initiated by the German Federal Environmental Agency, scenarios were developed which shed light on the conditions for the national sustainability strategy and demonstrate sustainable strategic approaches for leisure, nutrition and housing.

The simple definition of sustainability means to maintain the future viability at the process of decision-making. But what happens if the global frame-work changes? How do sustainable concepts have to be adjusted and which sustainable answers can be given to specific areas of action? Solutions to these questions were developed through an interdisciplinary project by the federal environmental agency.

For the first time in 2002, the federal government presented the national sustainability strategy, titled 'Perspectives for Germany'. This project should be more than a platform for political reforms and moreover change the attitudes of companies and consumers. The strategy covers intergeneration-fairness, quality of life, social solidarity, and international responsibility.

The federal government continually works on the strategy and regularly publishes reports regarding progress and indicators. Since 2009, all German ministries are required to assess and document the impact of laws with regard to long-term effects and sustainability.


Five scenarios for Germany's environment 2040

The starting point for the project was the examination of possible frame-work conditions for the national sustainability strategy. The precise question dealt with was ‘how the surroundings of Germany could change by 2040’. In a multi-level process based on Szenario-Management™ five possible external scenarios were developed:

Efficiency scenario – sustainable growth and co-operative global decisions (external scenario 1)
Future optimism and sense of community are the basis for an open knowledge-based society. High degrees of personal responsibility and self-determination permit low regulation of economy and society. Responsible companies aligned with long-term thinking drive innovation dynamics in the area of sustainability due to a massive increase in efficiency. Within the global environment, cooperative, cross-national decision-making processes are predominant. Little regulated, internationally interlinked economy cycles permit global adjustment of the prosperity level. Global anchoring of sustainability principles in economic life as well as effective implementation of ambitious environmental objectives lead to noticeable improvements of the ecological situation.
Sufficiency scenario – regulation, separation and waiver of growth (external scenario 2)
A strong sense of community, high personal responsibility and a self-determined, decelerated lifestyle characterise the German society. Deliberate limitations of private consumption promotes a service and solution oriented recycling management. Self administration beyond the current structures and high-performance social security systems enable the prosperity gap to be reduced in spite of reducing economic growth. In the global context, there will be political separation as an answer to the period of deregulated globalisation – national states strive for bilateral implementation of their individual points of view. Regional separation into highly regulated economic areas and generally low technical progress cement global prosperity differences. In spite of the high global environmental awareness, the implementation of global environmental protection is uncertain.
Isolation scenario – Regulatory protective walls & massive economisation: industrial nations fi ght against the downward spiral (external scenario 3)
Acceleration and external control characterise the everyday lives of the increasingly separated society in Germany. Purchasing power is reduced and a pessimistic view of the future is spreading, dominated by short-term economic interests. The focus is on maintenance of the social security systems, leaving little room for governmental action. The global economy is characterised by fierce, short-term competition between local regions though which sustainable innovations are strongly inhibited. The industrial nations defend their “islands of prosperity” by regulatory protective walls, cementing the global balance of power. Environment and sustainability subjects are of low global importance.
Crisis scenario – deregulation of global markets & economization of the society (external scenario 4)
Existential fear and social conflicts characterise an individualised and materially aligned society in Germany. Prestige-driven consumption pressure in an economically critical environment; Limited public funds limit the scope for decision-making and the state is forced to withdraw from many areas of responsibility. In the global environment, multinational and short-term oriented companies and capital markets hold a strong position compared to highly heterogeneous national and global political structures. Scarce resources and increasing differences between the geological regions leads to a strained global political situation. Environment and climate protection discussions are globally and nationally irrelevant, leading to desolate environmental conditions.
Consumption scenario – global growth at the expense of society and ecology (external scenario 5)
High future optimism and individualism characterise the fast-living society in Germany despite the increasing division. The elite skim-off most of the prosperity; comprehensive consumption possibilities compensate for low participation and educational options for large groups of the population. Traditionally representative political decision-making structures leave social risk protection increasingly to private provisions. Innovations towards sustainability do not pay off and traditional industrial approaches continue to dominate. In the global environment, there are weak supranational institutions. Geopolitical decisions are primarily made based on the cooperation of sovereign national states. Global growth in industrial and developing nations takes place based on networked action and strongly regulated capital and financial markets. International environment protection is the global loser, neglected for the benefit of fast consumption.



Subsequently, the five scenarios were analyzed on the basis of their 22 key factors. This analysis offers two long-term conceivable expectations: Within the scope of a critical environmental path the scenarios 3 and 4 dominate. Such a development would be characterized by a self-determined lifestyle and low social participation in the development of prosperity. This compares to a desired environment path that touches mainly on scenarios 1 and 2. Influential here are common sense, importance of information on consumer decisions and a strong global environmental and sustainability awareness.

Showing different paths to sustainability with solution scenarios

The current debates already show that there are various approaches which provide solutions in order to achieve sustainability in terms of politics, economics and society. This variety increases once again if the alternative environmental developments are included. Therefore, it was an innovative and new step that alternative ways were developed within the project for a sustainable planning for the future. Three working groups focus on solution scenarios concerning sustainable recreational activities, sustainable residential environment as well as sustainable nutrition.

Sustainable recreational activities: Scenarios of sustainable recreational activities focus mainly on leisure time in everyday life, concerning the participation in society as well as the level of material orientation. The scenario evaluation indicated that leisure time scenarios with reduced mobility, community values and sustainable concept of consumption are considered unlikely today but could prevail during a transformation in the general environment. Overall, it became apparent that the recreational activities sector has, so far, received little support in terms of a sustainable strategy.

Sustainable residential environment: The scenarios for the sustainable residential environment depend mainly on the understanding of the nature of the society as well as on the active role of the construction industry. Here again, it became apparent that the current sustainability concepts – for example for a mobile society or simplified urban structures – are particularly appropriate for the critical environmental path.

Sustainable nutrition: Scenarios for sustainable nutrition have three stages: organic agriculture driven by enlightened customers, regional agriculture and food sovereignty bonded with restrictions. Here it became apparent that for the desired eternal development several solutions are conceivable, whereas, the sustainable solution space is reduced to a critical environment for global innovation concepts or self-sufficiency-scenarios.

Different sustainability in the topic areas

Overall, the project demonstrated the critical view of the present: up-to-date scenarios correspond more to the expected rather than to the desired future. By contrast, the future was assessed differently: in the field of nutrition – and partially also living – sustainability already plays a significant role and the desired futures are considered to be expected. In the field of leisure, time sustainability is noticeably underdeveloped.

The scenarios and the procedure described can be used in various ways. Thus, the five external scenarios can be used as a basis for an interdisciplinary dialogue and as a tool for a robustness check of existing sustainability concepts. Additionally, the various strategy scenarios enable a more specific evaluation of the main industries. The summary of the study is available here.


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