Just what is sufficiency?
The term “sufficiency” has its roots in the Latin word “sufficere”, meaning “to be enough”. Sufficiency is about establishing what is the right measure and a good life, both for me and as an individual with global responsibility. The all-encompassing goal of sustainability is a good life for everyone, in the North and the South, now and in the future. A good and a just life are two sides of the same coin.
Wolfgang Sachs’ “four Es” serve as guiding principles of sufficiency both for individuals and politics. The name “four Es” is derived from the German terms he used (Entschleunigung, Entflechtung, Entrümpelung, Entkommerzialisierung). We have translated these terms into English as what we call the “four lessens” (with a conscious play on “lessons”), which express the idea that we need to lessen our speed, our distance, the encumbrance of acquired possessions, and the role of commerce and the market in our lives.
And what is sufficiency politics?
Sufficiency politics comprises all that can be done politically to facilitate the good life. Alternative lifestyles are not just a private concern; political measures are needed to support them.
A policy framework. An ecological tax reform could incentivise regional business by increasing long-distance freight charges. A tax on airplane fuel makes it easier to choose the train and holidays in the outdoors over an airplane to a resort. Standardised labels make it easier to buy ecologically sensible and fairly marketed products.
Infrastructure. Public transportation, safe bike-lanes and footpaths are needed so that more cars remain in the garage or never even leave the factory. A high quality of life at home influences the demand for mobility.
Enabling policies. Education policy can contribute to a good life if it also transmits the joy of leisure, social skills and productiveness in daily life.
The point is that sufficiency politics makes it easier for everyone to have a good life. Individual efforts, common initiatives and projects are positive but fall short of achieving broad societal change.
Why Do We Need Sufficiency Politics?
What is the current situation? Quantified sustainability goals and strategies have been formulated. But the state of the environment is still deteriorating with regard to climate, biodiversity and land use. This means that efficiency strategies are not enough to achieve the sustainability goals. A change of lifestyles towards sufficiency is needed, as well as policies supporting them. And There are positive examples of sufficiency politics, for instance in mobility: bike lanes, covered bicycle racks, or the possibility of transporting bikes on trains and buses.
Background: What are other strategies for sustainability?
All strategies for sustainability are – to varying degrees – based on the principles of efficiency, consistency, sufficiency.
Efficiency is mostly related to technological solutions. New technologies help to increase performance at a lower cost. The utility usually increases or stays the same. Typical examples include LED light bulbs, micro SD chips or a new fridge – it is bigger, but needs less energy than the old one.
Consistency relates to a return to natural cycles, e.g. through renewable energy or the use of biodegradable resources.
Sufficiency represents “enough” and “less” and aims at consuming less energy and resources by changing individual behaviour, for instance by fully loading the washing machine and walking or taking the bike for short trips.
Why is sufficiency politics likely to succeed?
We are witnessing a cultural shift towards more mindfulness and deceleration. Sufficiency politics links these personal desires with the societal one for more sustainability. It can succeed because:
• most people do not want to harm others and feel uneasy about the gap between knowing about harmful effects of their lifestyle but not acting on it.
• political support can be won for measures that limit certain individual behaviours, as proven by smoking bans.
• there are many individual approaches to more sustainable lifestyles. Exchanging views and learning about projects can be fruitful. Local politicians are growing increasingly aware of the potential of sufficiency politics to improve the quality of life and strengthen social cohesion in communities.
• it is becoming clear that a transformation to a sustainable society requires alternative lifestyles – which many people experience as positive.