New research shows how radical activists have triggered innovations that are helping move the UK in a more sustainable direction. Long seen as the bane of rational economic progress, these devotees to a greener lifestyle turn out to have been a key source of ideas that have seeded new industries in areas such as food, housing and energy. Rather than dismissing activists as hopelessly idealistic, mainstream business and policy should recognise how they create a diversity of options for sustainability, and improve their own capacities to learn from them.
The study, carried out at the University of Sussex and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), clearly shows the value of “green niche” initiatives in influencing mainstream activities. The study examined three radical niches; wind energy, organic food and eco-housing. In each case, the activists’ original ideas went far beyond what actually became mainstream. Yet the role of the niche ideas in providing solutions for ‘newly’ perceived problems within the mainstream should not be under-estimated.
The report’s author, Dr Adrian Smith, said: ‘Activists often struggle to keep projects going and fail to produce the radical transformations they originally envisaged. This lack of breakthrough inclines them (and others) to under-estimate the effect of their ideas. But we found that although their influence is more subtle and beyond their control, it is still hugely significant in many cases’.
Alexandra Saxon | alfa
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