How eco-champions solve the triple-bottom-line challenge

Bart J.A. van Bueren, Mark A.A.M. Leenders, Usha Iyer-Raniga, Kevin Argus

Eco-champions in eco-communities offer valuable lessons for mainstream societies to solve the triple-bottom-line (TBL) challenge for a sustainable ecosystem, society and economy. Eco-communities are self-sufficient on most TBL-processes, which makes them a microcosm to study eco-champions in. Eco-champions were studied as key informants and lead-users for their eco-innovative TBL-solutions. This study collected data through ethnographies, interviews, surveys, and secondary data from 28 eco-communities as a multiple case study. The eco-communities are assessed on the regional circular economy RCE framework to find if and how all TBL-processes operate within regional and planetary boundaries. Findings are that some eco-communities solved the TBL-challenge, and that this pivots around the lifestyle of eco-champions. Thirteen TBL-solutions were identified that relate to lifestyle aspects of living space, food, leisure and work.

These solutions are common in eco-communities, but are largely absent in mainstream-society. This is arguably because sustainable transitions require an eco-innovation network. The network is understood as a helix-model, specifically the eco-quintuple helix model eco-5HM, which describes the collaboration between the natural ecosystem, civil society, economy, education and governance. Initiating such networks in mainstream societies could set a sustainable transition towards TBL-solutions. This study therefore recommends five propositions that may initiate eco-innovation networks in mainstream societies. The propositions are about (1) understanding, awareness and care; (2) greenwashing issues; (3) trust and sharing; (4) nature-based solutions, and; (5) reduced transport needs. The TBL-solutions and propositions are radically different from current initiatives and policymaking that target sustainability, and deserve more consideration as a viable solution to the TBL-challenge.

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