Prof Frank Geels

rank Geels is Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, at the University of Manchester. Geels is chairman of the international Sustainability Transitions Research Network (, and one of the world-leading scholars on socio-technical transitions, which entail co-evolutionary interactions between technology, consumer practices, firms, markets, policy, cultural meaning, and infrastructure. Shifts to new transport/energy/agri-food systems are necessary to achieve large sustainability gains in the coming decades (e.g. factor-10 reductions in environmental burden). Geels has published six books on socio-technical transitions and more than forty peer-reviewed articles. He is particularly well-known for this conceptual and empirical work on the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) and Strategic Niche Management (SNM).
Sustainable development through socio-technical transitions and system innovation
In a recent high-level policy paper (Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries), Johan Rockstrm and Jeffrey Sachs (2013) distinguish three planetary scenarios: 1) kicking away the ladder (the developing world is denied the ‘right to develop’), 2) contract and converge (rich countries contract their economies to allow growth in developing countries), and 3) business-as-usual (rich countries refuse to change, leading to resource wars and conflict). The first and third scenarios would enhance injustice and inequalities in the world, whereas the second scenario is deemed politically infeasible. They also propose a fourth scenario (Sustainable Development Trajectory), which consists of six transitions: a) The Energy Transformation (including transition), b) The Food (Security) Transformation, c) Urban Sustainability Transformation (waste, water, energy, housing, transport systems), d) Population Transformation (fertility), e) Biodiversity Management Transformation, and f) Private and Public Governance Transformation. The Rockstrm/Sachs paper remains rather fuzzy, however, about the dynamics and specific challenges of this Sustainable Development Trajectory. This keynote therefore aims to unpack the dynamics and governance challenges of socio-technical transitions and system innovation. The keynote builds on ten years of research in the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (an international network of 600+ researchers), presents the Multi-Level Perspective on transitions (in which green niche-innovations struggle against existing regimes that are stabilized by powerful incumbent interests), and highlights the core struggles on economic, political, cultural and technical dimensions. Examples are drawn from the transport, energy and agro-food domains. The keynote aims to discuss the state-of-the-art of this new debate on socio-technical transitions, which holds the promise of grounding the Sustainable Development Trajectory proposed by Rockstrm/Sachs.