Beyond Growth 2023 Conference – “Development” implies a goal – what’s our vision of bioregional transformative development?

This article is part of a series that highlights why The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference aligns with several of the ten theses of ECOLISE

The concept of economic growth has been at the forefront of policy-making for decades, with governments and organizations striving to increase GDP and improve economic performance. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition that economic growth alone cannot address the challenges of social inequality, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. This is where the concept of “Beyond Growth” comes in.

The Beyond Growth Conference, to be held at the European Parliament from May 15-17, is a multi-stakeholder event that aims to promote sustainable prosperity policies that go beyond the traditional focus on economic growth. The conference is focused on building a post-growth future-fit EU that balances economic development, social well-being, and planetary boundaries. The aim is to challenge conventional policy-making and shift towards beyond-growth indicators that are more in line with long-term sustainable development goals. This approach is increasingly gaining traction, particularly in the context of the urgent need to address the planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other forms of environmental degradation.


The concept of sustainable development is widely contested. Development, in its original definition, has always been about the imposition of colonial economic structures and power relationships, which are still prevalent in post-colonial countries. Sustainable Development was originally articulated in the Brundtland Report and has since been adopted globally, with the SDGs representing a measure of development. The European Green Deal is an integral part of the European Commission’s strategy to meet the 2030 Agenda. However, there is no prioritization among the different goals, leading to cherry-picking and a lack of integration.

The SDGs also list “growth” as one of the goals, which contradicts its overall sustainability goal. The root causes of the planetary crisis are extractive economic systems and an economic growth ideology. The aim of current development efforts should be to balance this lopsided economic view with ecological and social goals, creating a holistic sense of sustainability, and taking future generations as well as bioregional/local needs into account. Yet a shared vision of what a truly sustainable bioregional development policy could look like is still lacking.

Community-led initiatives (CLIs) offer valuable perspectives and visions of transitions towards a good life. CLIs have a holistic sense of sustainable development, consistent with the more widely held notion of “living a good life within planetary boundaries.” For example, the ecovillage design mandala and map of regeneration combine social, ecological, economic, and cultural aspects, along with an integrative perspective that combines the four. Permaculture is rooted in three overlapping ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Shares, realized through design processes that treat nature as both the primary source of inspiration and main collaborating partner. The Transition movement makes such thinking the basis for radical revisioning and revitalization of local communities, rooted in principles such as inclusivity, social justice, and free sharing of knowledge and ideas.

ECOLISE, the European network of community-led initiatives for sustainability and climate action, argues that the role of CLIs in systemic change is not limited to their own actions but is linked to their potential to inspire systemic transformative change, which is dependent on their impact on policies at international, EU, national, regional, and local levels. The realized and potential contributions of CLI activity to climate adaptation are equally important, with demonstrated impacts in fields ranging from soil restoration and water management to conflict transformation and new forms of collaboration.

ECOLISE calls for: 

  • The EU to nurture a shared vision of transformative sustainable development with regenerative cultures and values (see thesis 5) as well as transformative concepts such as planetary health and wellbeing at its heart.
  • The EU to promote the plurality of place-based local versions of a “good life” and the need for strong support in order to strengthen social imagination and the accessibility of a wide range of diverse, alternative and sustainable lifestyles.
  • The EU to decouple local development policies from agricultural policies and introduce a diversified and holistic approach to bioregional development in line with the well-being economy and planetary health.

The link to the European Green Deal 

The EU is working towards the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, yet without an overall prioritisation of a healthy biosphere, and including SDG 8 with its demand of sustained economic growth. Arguably, the European Green Deal is the main instrument for implementing the 2030 Agenda – and the EU’s new definition of “sustainable development” in itself. The EU has started to mainstream this notion of sustainable development into all its policies, including local development policies within Europe. One example: The Rural Pact and its goals as part of the Long Term Vision for rural areas embrace a holistic notion of sustainable development, with social, economic and environmental aspects. Yet the vision and its action plan lack the prioritisation of a healthy biosphere as a prerequisite for all human activities (see thesis 2), as well as a strong notion of intergenerational and social justice. Also, rural development is still funded and defined as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which still places “competitive agriculture” as its priority. The EGD’s Farm to Fork strategy with its focus on sustainable food systems is meant as a corrective to the CAP, yet it is currently blocked mainly due to vested interests from agro-industries. Leading NGOs such as the EEB are warning that the new CAP (starting in 2023) will not deliver on the EGD.

Beyond Growth and towards wellbeing development

The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference is an important event that challenges conventional policy-making and encourages policymakers to shift towards beyond-growth indicators. The conference proposes new policy contract proposals for a post-growth future-fit EU that balances economic development with social well-being and planetary boundaries. Community-led initiatives offer valuable perspectives and visions of transitions towards a good life within planetary boundaries and have the potential to inspire systemic transformative change. We hope that policymakers will engage with innovative approaches and co-create policy labs to develop policy recommendations.

This article is part of a series that highlights why the The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference aligns with several of the ten theses of ECOLISE


The Beyond Growth Conference, taking place from May 15-17, 2023, is set to bring together experts, activists, and practitioners from around the world to discuss the urgent need for transformative change in our societies.

The conference has several mutually reinforcing goals, including:

  • discussing the significance of economic growth as a policy goal
  • shifting the discourse towards future-oriented economic policymaking
  • shaping the EU’s path to a more resilient economic agenda
  • creating real policy impact with new proposals to establish a new social, economic, and environmental contract, and creating new and unusual alliances between a great diversity of stakeholders
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