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Sustainability transitions use different terminologies across Europe

In Dust, we work with an interdisciplinary team across our eight case study regions, adapting to the unique sectoral landscapes, societal structures and trends in each. A recurring theme in our collaborative work is how the main terminologies used to generate narratives that promote sustainability transitions differ between countries. Language plays a crucial role in shaping narratives, policies, and public perceptions of shifts towards more environmentally friendly industries and processes. When designing policies or formulating collective action around sustainability transitions, it is vital that narratives are adapted to terminology that is familiar to communities in different regions.

Diving into the regions where DUST is active, we are exploring how familiar terminologies related to sustainability transitions change. In this article we will share some of our first indications of common terminologies found in Poland, Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands. Our exploration of active and impactful terminologies is ongoing. Join the discussion to share your thoughts on familiar terminology in your country here.


In Poland, discourses surrounding sustainability may emphasise a harmony with nature (Harmonia z Naturą) This may reflect a close relationship with the natural world, rooted in the country's agrarian traditions and rural landscapes. The protection of the environment (ochrona środowiska) is also sometimes seen in discussion, highlighting the framing of preserving Poland's ecological heritage.


In Germany, terminologies around sustainability transitions may display holistic and combined narratives, encompassing environmental, social, and economic dimensions. Sustainability (Nachhaltigkeit) here has many aspects and may sometimes seem vague to those seeking to understand more of what is really happening. Often highlighted is the urgency to change systems to limit the impacts of climate change (Klimawandel)


In Sweden, narratives may emphasise the long-term need and impact of sustainability transitions, highlighted in terms like Sustainable Development (Hållbar Utveckling). Environmental policy in Sweden is often reported to be relatively progressive, and therefore evokes ideas of building better and more environmentally friendly (miljövänlig) futures.


As a country with diverse natural landscapes and a growing renewable energy sector, narratives around sustainability transitions in Bulgaria appear to often refer to Green Energy (Зелена Енергия) and environmentally sustainable development (екологично устойчиво развитие). Narratives in Bulgaria may emphasise efforts to balance economic growth with environmental preservation.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, sustainability (Duurzaamheid) seems to be a common and societally integrated terminology. Narratives in the Netherlands may emphasise innovation and opportunity in sustainability transitions, supporting growing sectors around climate neutrality (klimaatneutraliteit).

The above reflections indicate how narratives used to promote sustainability transitions display different terminologies across Europe. In many ways, these narratives are tied to each country's unique cultural, historical, and environmental contexts. Linguistic nuances mirror diverse approaches to sustainability transitions, and demonstrate how strategies may be framed in many different ways. In DUST, we continue to explore these narratives and framings, as we build our Regional Futures Literacy Labs (RFLL) approach. Critically exploring what terminologies may be the most impactful to different communities will help to build understanding between people and policy, and support the promotion of more democratic decision making processes.

We want to hear what you think! What terminologies are common in narratives around sustainability transitions in your country? Contribute to the discussion here.


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