Authors: Joanna Boehnert & Simon Mair
Productivity growth has been failing for several decades in many of the wealthiest economies. Conventional economics and policy making sees this as a crisis because they assume that productivity growth is linked to material standards of living and that reductions in the growth of living standards will lead to reduced wellbeing. The ESRC funded Powering Productivity: Exploring links between energy, wellbeing and the UK’s productivity puzzle research project investigated the problem of falling productivity growth and its relationship to both energy and wellbeing. The research used a participatory system mapping method and two thematic literature reviews to integrate perspectives across disciplines. A possible explanation for failing productivity is the declining access to high quality energy in (i.e. traditional fossil fuel). This explanation subsequently raises fundamental questions. With the transition to sustainable renewable energy driven societies, will falling productivity growth rates be the new normal? If so, what does this mean for wellbeing, standards of living and general levels of prosperity? Can we raise productivity growth rates with sustainable energy sources? And finally, how does this ongoing fall in productivity growth influence wellbeing? In this paper we describe the research methods and process, reflect on the insights generated in the interdisciplinary explorations, and speculate how it might inform the design of sustainable transitions.