What is degrowth?


Sustainable degrowth is a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions. Such societies will no longer have to “grow or die.”

Material accumulation will no longer hold a prime position in the population’s cultural imaginary. The primacy of efficiency will be substituted by a focus on sufficiency, and innovation will no longer focus on technology for technology’s sake but will concentrate on new social and technical arrangements that will enable us to live convivially and frugally.

Degrowth does not only challenge the centrality of GDP as an overarching policy objective but proposes a framework for transformation to a lower and sustainable level of production and consumption, a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems.

Short history

Some of the degrowth ideas have been part of philosophical debates for centuries. Should we trace back sources of degrowth to the Greeks and the critics of hubris? Diogenes in his barrel may have been one of the early degrowth supporters.

The word Décroissance (french for degrowth) appeared for the first time in the seventies in different French publications (Amar, 1976; Gorz, 1977; Georgescu-Roegen, 1979) in the follow-up of the club of Rome report, -‘The limits to growth’-. However Décroissance only became an activist slogan in France from 2001, in Italy from 2004 (Decrescita), in Catalonia (Spain) from 2006 (Decreixement and Decrecimiento). The English term ‘Degrowth’ was accepted at the first degrowth conference in Paris in 2008, which also marked the initiation of degrowth as an academic research area and international civil society debate.

At first glance, degrowth is an idea that is debated in society, even in the mainstream media, and receives much more support than usually believed if we remain at disinterested political level. There is a constellation of groups and networks explicitly existing for degrowth. Practitioners, activists and researchers act and interact in multiple levels and dimensions. There are minorities in some organizations, like trade unions and political movements (or parties) actively supporting degrowth. There is then a much larger group consisting of people and collectives which both contributed to the rise and conceptualization of the movement and which adopt degrowth as the horizon of their action. This includes the areas of agroecology, environmental justice, environmental conflicts and defense of territory (against infrastructures, real state speculation,…), neo-rurals, critical consumption, international cooperation, solidarity economy, local currencies, exchange markets, feminism, eco-villages, do it your-self, reclaim the fields and the streets, alternative mobility (bicycles,…), urban gardens, non-violence and pacifism, anti-advertisement, preventive and alternative medicine, …

Great potentials exist for alliances. The Degrowth movement interacts in the North with other movements such as Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, Transition Towns, Inclusive Democracy, Permaculture,… Similarly, it finds correspondents in the South such as Buen Vivir, Environmentalism of the Poor, Crisis of civilizations, Via Campesina, etc.


In general terms, Degrowth is grounded in a variety of areas. Following Fabrice Flipo, we refer to them as the sources of degrowth. Within anthropology, concerns have been raised regarding the commodification of human relations, cultural uniformization and criticism to development, both as  imaginary and socio-historical realities.

Another concern relates to the meaning of life with the idea that non-material exchange and poetry of life are important. Degrowth also calls for a deepening (more direct and participative) and a widening of democracy. Ecology is an obvious source, which is linked to the direct destruction of ecosystems.

Moreover, in the line of Georgescu-Roegen and ecological economics, another concern regards the fact that degrowth is inevitable (i.e. from peak oil to peak everything). Finally, Justice is a major concern for degrowth in its social and economic dimensions.

The review presented is not exhaustive. Other sources of inspiration could be mentioned such as (eco)feminism, political ecology and non violence. The point however, is to show the diversity of arguments that people deploy to argue in favour of degrowth, depending often on their socio-historical context and previous political experience. The diversity shows degrowth is far from an ideology.


The multi-level nature of our complex societies obliges the degrowth movement to follow multiple strategies. This has led to a plethora of engaged debates.

Firstly, there have been debates between activist movements that focus on opposition, for example movements fighting infrastructures (i.e. highways, incinerators, big dams, nuclear plants etc.), and ones promoting alternatives (i.e. bicycles, reuse, solar panels etc.)

The other debate is between the focus on the national/international political level that action should be focused on the local level. Similarly, people debate about the importance of individual and collective action.

Another big debate has been taking place between degrowth supporters who focus on replacing existing institutions (e.g. financial institutions) and the ones who consider that institutions need only some adaptations and should on the contrary be defended (e.g. social security).

There has also been a debate between movements which give priority to practical action at either the grass-roots or political levels, and the ones who prefer doing theoretical analysis and denouncing the “growth religion”.

Most, if not all, strategies are appearing within each source of degrowth mentioned above. A degrowth perspective that avoids reductionism of all kinds would welcome the diversity and the complementarity of strategies (and sources). Although, how much of each strategy is needed and the priority given to them remains a subject of debate and which determine the specialization of actors. Again degrowth is far from a guideline of action.


MULTI-DIMENSIONS OF DEGROWTH   (or what shall degrow)

Degrowth, the fair and ecological downscaling of production and consumption, is not GDP reduction. It is neither the application of a single solution. Degrowth involves simultaneous actions in different dimensions. We illustrate these below suggesting proposals in each area.

Dimensions of degrowth:


> Resources availability

> Hard Infrastructure

> Finances

> Institutions and socio-economic organisation

> Social comparison

> Material needs

> Consumer imaginary


Proposal and discussions in these different dimensions can be found at these links: Working Groups.

Originally published at: https://degrowth.org/