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Empowerment of citizen collectives aiming at sustainability (energy, circular,food) and/or health transitions.

Photo by Hannah Busing

Sustainable and healthy living is difficult for an individual The most recently published IPCC reports show that lifestyle change is essential for achieving climate goals and that citizens also play an important role in this. In addition, measures are needed to adapt cities to climate change, the impact of which is already noticeable (climate adaptation) and to make the living environment healthier. For citizens, the desired changes in terms of living (energy), travel, eating and consuming are not always easy to achieve. Thresholds sometimes have to do with costs, with the current social and physical environment (e.g. the current environment is strongly geared towards car use) and also with culture and habits. In order to overcome these barriers and achieve a world where sustainable living is the norm, all stakeholders will have to contribute: the government, the economic sectors and the citizens. Citizens as individuals are likely to experience and have little influence. The power of citizens lies more in the collective. That is why we ask the question: When do citizen collectives work as a driver of sustainable change and under which conditions do they successfully work with governments to drive also just transitions?

Collectives make it easier for people to bring about change, in their own lives, but also towards governments or companies (footprint and handprint)

The initiators of the Better Together coalition want to facilitate citizens to contribute to achieving climate goals and adapting the living environment by investigating how we can develop and support collectives. Experience has already been built up in the field of energy transition, for example, in 2021 there were already 676 energy cooperatives in the Netherlands. These cooperatives are often focused on saving energy in the home and, for example, solar panels or wind energy, but not yet with less consumption or adjustment of food. In our vision, a collective (association, cooperative, neighbourhood) jointly focuses on concrete CO2 reduction by creating a joint sustainability agenda (such as saving energy and generating sustainably, eating less meat and dairy products and more plant-based products, consuming less) and following progress with a dashboard. Citizens can help each other (e.g. share goods, reuse goods), give tips, get feedback on how the goals of the collective are being achieved in relation to the collectives and the national standards. That way, they can see that their behavior change matters. They can also, for example, jointly clarify what policy changes are needed to enable a sustainable lifestyle.

By determining carbon footprints per neighbourhood or district, citizens can learn from each other and it becomes clear which target groups can be supported in which way

By determining carbon footprints per neighbourhood or district, citizens can learn from each other and it becomes clear which target groups can be supported in which way At the moment, it is unclear to many people what causes CO2 emissions (low CO2 literacy). In addition, CO2 footprints vary greatly per person. For example, it depends on income. By distinguishing between different target groups, (policy) interventions can be better designed.

Improving neighbourhood cohesion and restoring trust

By joining the consortium, organisations can help develop an innovative method to bring ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ together. So that the Paris climate goals and the local experience, knowledge and skills reinforce each other.

In addition to gains in terms of climate goals, we hope that the working method with citizen collectives can also contribute to improving neighborhood cohesion and confidence in being able to contribute to the living environment for the next generations. With hopefully increased trust in cooperation with governments.

Data collection through citizen science, among other things, ensures that we can learn

By properly documenting the impact of the various initiatives, adjustments and measures, we can learn what works and what doesn’t in different types of neighbourhoods. Important success factors are the use and development of social capital, and the collection of data (CO2 em., biodiversity) and its management by the collective itself.

Interested? From 2023 to 2028, the TNO research programme ‘Empowering Citizen Collectives’ will run. This programme is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. In this program TNO develops various elements of this vision with a large number of partners. In addition, we are currently working on various additional grant applications, in order to further develop the vision and to be able to involve other knowledge partners.

Partners ZutphenEnergie (John Verheijden), Klimaatverbond (Jan Engels), Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Reint-jan Renes), TNO, Universiteit Leiden (Sarah Giest, Wessel Kraaij, Antonella Maiello), Stichting Iedereen aan Boord, Amsterdam Economic Board (Lia Hsu), Buurkracht (Roel Woudstra), RUG (Thijs Bouman), EUR (Moniek Buijzen).

Contact Wessel Kraaij, Universiteit Leiden en TNO. w.kraaij at and Data Science for Social Good