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Leverage points for sustainability transformation: a review on interventions in food and energy systems

Riechers, Maraja; Dorninger, Christian; Abson, David J.; Apetrei, Cristina I.; Derwort, Pim; Ives, Christopher D.; Klaniecki, Kathleen; Lam, David P.M.; Langsenlehner, Maria; Spittler, Nathalie; von Wehrden, Henrik


Maraja Riechers

Christian Dorninger

David J. Abson

Cristina I. Apetrei

Pim Derwort

Assistant Professor

Kathleen Klaniecki

David P.M. Lam

Maria Langsenlehner

Nathalie Spittler

Henrik von Wehrden


© 2019 Elsevier B.V. There is increasing recognition that sustainability science should be solutions orientated and that such solutions will often require transformative change. However, the concrete sustainability interventions are often not clearly communicated, especially when it comes to the transformative change being created. Using food and energy systems as illustrative examples we performed a quantitative systematic review of empirical research addressing sustainability interventions. We use a modified version of Donella Meadows' notion of ‘leverage points’ – places in complex systems where relatively small changes can lead to potentially transformative systemic changes – to classify different interventions according to their potential for system wide change and sustainability transformation. Our results indicate that the type of interventions studied in the literature are partially driven by research methods and problem framings and that ‘deep leverage points’ related to changing the system's rules, values and paradigms are rarely addressed. We propose that for initiating system wide transformative change, deep leverage points – the goals of a system, its intent, and rules – need to be addressed more directly. This, in turn, requires an explicit consideration of how scientific approaches shape and constrain our understanding of where we can intervene in complex systems.

Journal Article Type Review
Publication Date May 1, 2020
Journal Ecological Economics
Print ISSN 0921-8009
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 171
Pages 106570
APA6 Citation Riechers, M., Dorninger, C., Abson, D. J., Apetrei, C. I., Derwort, P., Ives, C. D., …von Wehrden, H. (2020). Leverage points for sustainability transformation: a review on interventions in food and energy systems. Ecological Economics, 171, 106570.
Keywords Economics and Econometrics; General Environmental Science
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Leverage points for sustainability transformation: a review on interventions in food and energy systems; Journal Title: Ecological Economics; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


This file is under embargo until Feb 7, 2022 due to copyright restrictions.

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