Workshop: Squaring the circle?

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»Join us in a relaxed atmosphere to open a thinking space on growth independence in social and fiscal policy and launch with us a network on growth independence«

Squaring the circle

Joining forces to liberate social and political stability from the need for continuous economic growth

We invite you to this full-day workshop, co-hosted by ZOE Institute for Future-fit Economies and the German Environment Agency (UBA), in collaboration with Angelika Zahrnt (Friends of the Earth/IÖW), Irmi Seidl (Swiss Research Institute WSL), Christine Corlet Walker (Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity) and Mike Asquith (European Environment Agency).

Goals of the workshop:

  • Ideas and insights on complex issues thrive best in teams. This is why the creation of an expert network on growth independence will stand at the core of this workshop.
  • The workshop will bring together leading experts from academia and policy to open up and discuss research questions of selected aspects on social welfare systems and fiscal policy with a view to liberate the stability of the systems from the need of continuous economic growth.
  • In doing so, this event is intended to support an emerging network to accelerate, mainstream and scale up the research on these topics.

What is in for you:

  • Be part of the development of a network for growth independence that connects experts and thus advances, scales, and mainstreams research
  • Explore the tensions, trade-offs and solutions that arise when government revenues decline as a result of lower economic output and how, in doing so, social security systems can still be stable and resilient to crises.

[Registration closed]

Description of the workshop

  1. Already before the workshop we will provide you with a short input to give you an overview of the research landscape on growth independence in the areas of fiscal and social policy. More information will follow soon.
  2. At the workshop, you will then have the opportunity to dive into discussions with leading experts on central questions from the thematic blocks of social and fiscal policy with experts from the respective fields.
    • Fiscal policy: In a scenario with low or negative economic growth the question arises how states can create stable economies on the basis of a possibly smaller tax base and ensure welfare commitments and important future investments. Key tensions, trade-offs and possible solutions will be discussed within our focus on fiscal policy.
    • Social policy: As a second focus, we want to dive deeper into the research of how social systems can be redesigned to meet the basic needs of society even in the absence of economic growth and define further research questions.

The workshop is intended to open up a thinking space so that a research agenda can subsequently be developed for a roadmap to growth independence in the areas of fiscal policy and welfare systems. This may, in turn, inform and inspire funding institutions to take up some of these issues and include them in their funding calls.


The guiding economic policy compass to ensure short-term stability is still primarily geared towards increasing economic activity, competitiveness, and growth. To date, this focus on economic growth is correlated with enormous pressure on our ecosystems and threatens environmental stability.[i] When looking at the empirical correlations between economic growth and environmental pressures, it remains at least uncertain whether current green growth strategies on their own are sufficient to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement.

A “post-growth” scenario unfolds in which environmental limits to economic production might lead to drops in economic output in sectors with high emission- and resource-intensities. This, in turn, can cause an economy-wide reduction in GDP in the medium-term – risking pressures on workers, inequality, income, and social cohesion.[ii] Hence, our political and social systems seem to be subject to a societal and economic “growth imperative”.[iii] As long as this holds true, policy is faced with the dilemma of trading-off environmental health with political and social stability.

To overcome this growth imperative and succeed with the prioritisation of environmental objectives would require a systemic reconfiguration of today’s societal, technological, and political institutions. The task at hand is to liberate the achievement of employment, social security, fiscal sustainability and needs satisfaction from the need of continuous economic growth. This issue has recently been discussed under the notion of what Petschow et al. called “a precautionary post-growth position”.[ii]


[i] Rockström, J. et al. (2009). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity, 14(2).

[ii] Petschow et al. (2020). Social Well-Being Within Planetary Boundaries: the Precautionary Post-Growth Approach, German Environment Agency: Dessau- Roßlau.

[iii] See also Oliver Richters and Andreas Siemoneit, (2019), Growth imperatives: Substantiating a contested concept, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 51, (C), 126-137.

About the organisers


ZOE Institute for Future-fit Economies is a think-and-do tank based in Cologne, Germany focused on new economic thinking for the 21st century. ZOE has developed the sustainable prosperity toolbox for policymaking leading to long-term sustainable and socially just economies

The German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA) is Germany’s main environmental protection agency, based in Dessau-Roßlau. As part of its broad field of tasks, it also funds research projects such as the one leading to the publication of Petschow et al. (2020) on the Precautionary Post-Growth Approach. This event is part of a co-lead project of ZOE Institute and UBA supporting the development and implementation of sufficiency policies in Germany.

Mike Asquith is an expert on Sustainability Transitions at the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Christine Corlet Walker is a Research Fellow with CUSP, working within CUSP’s systems analysis theme, focusing on the question of how to deliver welfare in a post-growth economy.

Angelika Zahrnt is an economist working on post-growth society. She was chairwoman of Friends of the Earth Germany from 1998 to 2007. Since 2007, she has been honorary chair of Friends of the Earth. She was also a member of the German Council for Sustainable Development from 2001 to 2013.  Fellow at the IÖW.

Irmi Seidl is an economist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute focussing on post-growth society.

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October 11, 2022

Silent Green

Gerichtstraße 35

13347 Berlin