How much support is there for sufficiency among the Swiss population?

15.12.2022 As one of three major sustainability strategies, eco-sufficiency – known also simply as sufficiency – remains under-represented in public discourse. Yet it’s clear that, the more sufficient our society, the better able we are to achieve our sustainability goals. A team at Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH is investigating where measures to promote sufficiency would be most effective and whether the Swiss population would support such measures, thus creating a scientific foundation in a little-researched area.

Among other things, the project "Sufficiency and Politics" investigates the political chances of implementing sufficiency measures.
Among other things, the project "Sufficiency and Politics" investigates the political chances of implementing sufficiency measures. Image: Myriam Wasmuth

‘Politicians in Switzerland are reluctant to talk about making sacrifices,’ says Flurina Wäspi, research associate at the Institute for Public Sector Transformation (IPST) and head of the research project ‘Sufficiency and Politics’. Though the topic of sufficiency is receiving more attention in today’s political discourse, given current crises, those speaking choose their words carefully: politicians avoid terms like ‘save’ or ‘reduce’, preferring phrases like ‘don’t waste’.

Rejection anticipated, though data missing

‘In Switzerland, the assumption has always been that the population will reject measures aimed at changing widespread behaviour – in this case, reducing consumption – or those that carry additional costs,’ says Wäspi. Whether this is truly the case remains uncertain. Sufficiency and Politics, a project supported by Stiftung Mercator Switzerland, aims to change that: researchers are gathering the empirical data that has long been missing and assessing the political chances of implementing sufficiency measures in the country.

It’s all about broad impact

‘With this research, we hope to spark a discussion on the topic of sufficiency that extends beyond individual behaviour,’ says Flurina Wäspi. Most research on sufficiency has focused on the individual, although time and again, these studies have concluded that it is difficult for individuals to behave sustainably in an unsustainable system. The Sufficiency and Politics project, meanwhile, targets a higher level. ‘We aim to shine a light on political feasibility,’ says Wäspi. ‘We’re concerned with researching structural measures and the corresponding broad impact.’

Bringing people on board from the start

‘There’s a catalogue of possible sufficiency measures currently in the works,’ Wäspi continues. ‘To that end, we’re looking to engage experts and everyday people alike via the Sufficiency & Politics ( platform.’ Initial results have already shown the need for restructuring. ‘Experts we interviewed particularly emphasised the areas of mobility and housing. In other words, measures that promote public transport over personal vehicle usage or that curb increasing land consumption and urban sprawl.’ Qualitative and quantitative surveys will be conducted in spring of 2023 to record the population’s approval of such measures. In time for next year’s National Council elections, the data will be evaluated, published and – if possible – fed into the political process.

Flurina Wäspi has been a research associate at the BFH Institute for Public Sector Transformation (IPST) since 2020. She researches and teaches on such topics as digitalisation in the public sector, smart cities, digital democracy and the interface between environment and digitisation. Before joining the team at BFH, Flurina Wäspi studied political science and international law at the University of Bern. She has also worked for the Delegation of the European Union to Switzerland and the Swiss Foundation for Consumer Protection.

Sufficiency: one of three sustainability strategies

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Any ideas or suggestions on which political measures should be implemented to promote sufficiency? Share your input with the research team at Sufficiency & Politics (