Towards a thriving Europe beyond economic growth

Measuring what counts: mainstreaming wellbeing and sustainability in policymaking

ZOE seeks to redirect European economic policy towards environmental sustainability, social cohesion, and wellbeing, moving away from GDP growth as an overriding policy objective. To this end, we focus our attention on redefining economic progress, building trust and support in our network, and mainstreaming wellbeing and sustainability in policymaking.

The EU’s 2050 vision of ‘living well, within planetary boundaries’ aligns with these goals, emphasising ‘climate neutrality’, ‘regenerative economy’, ‘measuring economic performance beyond GDP’, and ‘using wellbeing as a compass for policy’. But while ongoing EU policy processes such as the European Green Deal, Resilience Dashboards, EU Semester, and Sustainable Development Goals address these objectives, GDP remains the most widely used indicator of economic performance. Although these policy processes have their own sets of indicators and corresponding targets to measure progress, they fall short of providing a comprehensive path to achieve transformative change.

Therefore, in line with ZOE’s organisational goals and the needs of the EU, this project aims both to understand why GDP remains the primary indicator of progress and to contribute to the redefinition of progress. For the former, we take an institutional perspective, drawing on ZOE’s extensive experience of working at the research-policy interface and engaging with different stakeholders. Through our research and roundtable discussions on the governance and technical barriers to going ‘Beyond GDP’, we identify possible pathways for transformative change that can increase the political uptake of wellbeing and sustainability metrics in EU policymaking.

To then redefine progress and promote alternative policy ideas, we contribute to 1) the active discussions around shaping an economy that operates within planetary boundaries, and 2) determining how to measure progress towards environmental, social, and economic goals, while being resilient in the face of continuous challenges. We propose integrating the Doughnut Economics framework. This framework brings together the concepts of ecological ceilings and social foundations, highlighting where we exceed planetary boundaries and where we fall short in meeting social needs. Using this framework, we also developed the Economic Resilience Index, which measures how well the economy is doing while recognising the economy’s responsibility to meet intergenerational wellbeing needs within planetary boundaries.

We also shape the discussion and engage with our network by co-organising the Beyond Growth 2023 conference – a unique opportunity to share and discuss policies that can lead towards a thriving Europe beyond economic growth.

Associated topics
Redefining Progress