Processes of sustainability transformation across systems scales: leveraging systemic change in the textile sector

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Sustainability research emphasizes the importance of intervening with both individual and organizational behaviours as well as the systems that shape them to create sustainability transformations. However, to date there is a lack of studies that bridge the divide between small case-based interventions and global systems at broader scales, and the complex interactions across scales and processes. This paper works with a leverage points framework to consider systems transformation. It focuses on four individual sustainability interventions in the textile sector and explores how they are embedded within a complex set of nested systems, and how these connected systems shape the transformative potential of the interventions. By using an onion metaphor for systems with several onion layers representing the current textile sector and its multiple connected and nested systems, we integrate and reflect across four in-depth case studies, conducted over a period of 3 years, using a range of empirical research approaches. The findings show that the studied interventions all target multiple deep leverage points within their target systems of production and consumption. All are limited in fulfilling their transformative potential by a range of barriers that we trace back to the economic and policy and regulation systems that they are embedded within. The economic system enforces a paradigm of consumption-based growth, and the policy and regulation system fails to either support change, or restrict unsustainable behaviours. Our findings demonstrate the need to think across systems scales to understand leverage points and transformative change; our nested systems approach is one way to do so. We outline two promising pathways for sustainability transformations: (1) focussing on how to create spillover effects of favourable interventions in sub-systems to push outwards against the constraints of the current policy and regulation, and economic systems; and (2) by targeting actors and interventions within the policy and regulation and economic systems to create change in the paradigms and design they embody and enforce on the systems nested within them.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)469-488
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 03.2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open access publishing supported by the National Technical Library in Prague.

Funding Information:
This research was made possible within the graduate school “Processes of Sustainability Transformation”, which is a cooperation between Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. We are grateful for funding received from the Robert Bosch Stiftung (12.5.F082.0021.0). JL acknowledges institutional support from the Institute of Global Change Research of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CzechGlobe). We owe special thanks for Ms. Anastasia Stročková for her wonderful illustrations throughout this paper:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).