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Enabling and disabling policy environments for community-led sustainability transitions

Filippo Celata, Raffaella Coletti
Regional environmental change 2019 v.19 no.4 pp. 983-993
energy, politics, public policy, recycling, surveys, wastes, Finland, Southern European region, United Kingdom
This paper explores the role public policies have or may have in favoring or disfavoring the emergence, development, and diffusion of community-based sustainability initiatives. To this end, it presents evidence collected through a survey of 63 initiatives operating in six city-regions in Europe and across various domains of active citizenship: alternative food networks, community energy, sustainable mobility, and recycling. Results show that although they are mostly driven by pragmatic goals, the case of apolitical grassroots initiatives is quite rare. Most initiatives aspire both to challenge the political regime and strengthen their relationships with policy-makers. These two dimensions are correlated, showing that an “antagonist” attitude is as well infrequent. When it comes to the content of these relationships, the picture becomes more problematic: while one-half of the initiatives have been supported by public policies, almost two-thirds of them encountered some policy obstacle. The issue is very much context-specific. We show that in those countries or domains where the policy environment is more supportive—in the UK, Finland, waste and energy—the political activities of initiatives are also more dialogical. However, in unsupportive contexts—Central and Southern Europe, and food domain—they tend to be oppositional. Based on an analysis of the most recurrent policy barriers, the paper identifies some crucial areas where public policies can make a difference in facilitating or hindering a community-led sustainability transition.