How to halt biodiversity loss in Switzerland?

Environment, transport and energy

Biodiversity is in a desolate state – and increasingly so. This ever more obvious fact has motivated a diverse group of students from different Swiss universities of applied science to think about how the loss of biodiversity in Switzerland can be halted. The Hirschmann grant holders have co-written two blogs, highlighting action items for two possible futures: “considered consumerism” and “conscious consumption”, while this introductory first blog outlines the hows and whys of the process. 

by Wailea Zülch

In May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released their first report pointing out that biodiversity is declining at rates faster than at any time in human history, threatening ecosystem functions critical to human survival and well-being. While the scope and multilateral support of the report were novel, the general trends had been known for a long time, but were not yet established in the awareness of society. This is why foraus set out for the very first time to use the then new participatory innovation tool Policy Kitchen in autumn 2018. The 43 refined ideas on biodiversity conservation can be found in the publication “Grassroots ideas to halt biodiversity loss”. Almost four years and few policy actions  later, we used once again Policy Kitchen to connect, collaborate and create action items on how to halt biodiversity loss. This time, the project scope was much smaller, the average age of the participants much younger and the focus mainly on Switzerland. But over the course of the past years, for this process we have put much energy into methodological innovation and combined strategic foresight elements with more traditional ideation methodologies. 

Today’s young adults are sensibilized and concerned about the dramatic threat to ecosystem functions that are critical to human survival and well-being. In a bottom-up decision process, a group of students from different Swiss universities of applied sciences receiving one-off grants from the Hirschmann foundation have decided to jointly work out ways to halt the loss of biodiversity in Switzerland. The students, with above-average levels of determination, come from a variety of countries and very different academic backgrounds, spanning art, agriculture, chemistry, design to social work, but the majority felt that environmental diversity should be at the heart of this grant cohort’s work. 

In order to create an open ideation space for students with different levels of prior knowledge and to facilitate access to the rather technical topic for all participants, we once more went back to our strategic foresight toolbox. By guiding the students through illustrated visions to first think about three possible biodiversity scenarios of Switzerland in 2035, we opened up a space where there are no wrong answers. Rooted in the understanding that the future does not exist and no one knows what will happen, no matter how much effort we put into extrapolating data from the past, everyone can equally participate in the creation of the landscape of possible futures. In this light, the Hirschmann grant holders came together in the virtual space on 21 February 2022 for a three hour interactive Policy Kitchen workshop, where they were initiated to the topic through a dive into three very different possible worlds. 

Two groups of around five students worked together on future 1, a scenario reflecting the historical or business-as-usual trends i.e., population growth, economic growth, land-use change trends illustrated by an alluringly picturesque alpine region. A handful of students worked in parallel on future II, a  scenario focused on more sustainable trajectories of land-use change, based on societal changes which resulted in the aforementioned blog post “Conscious Consumption”. Future III, a scenario focused on more sustainable trajectories of land-use change, based on technological changes visible in a city setting, resulted in the blog “considered consumerism”. It is important to say that none of the three alternative futures was presented as inherently good or bad. However, positive and negative trend trajectories could be found and, depending on the perspective,  nuanced in all three. After initiating the discussion around biodiversity loss in Switzerland through the 2035 scenarios, we guided the discussions back to the present and asked the students to ideate potential (policy) action items that would prevent or enable the scenario or certain details of it. Using our Policy Kitchen platform, students were not only able to co-create through the collaborative text features in the shared present, but the ideas remained visible after the workshop to be collectively refined through comments from other groups as well. 

Are you curious about what ideas we can act upon to keep the complexity of life on earth with approximately 9 million species in a functional balance and interact with each other so that we, Homo Sapiens, can survive as part of this complex web? Read on.



Image credits: Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash