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New paths to sustainable well-being and economy

Published on 17.4.2023
Tampere University
Researchers in a group photo at Tampere University.
Researchers from the ToBe consortium met at a kick-off event at Tampere University in March. (Photo: Okko Sorma/
Research-based knowledge on the sustainability of well-being and the economy is needed as Europe strives to become the first carbon-neutral continent in the world. For example, a high gross domestic product (GDP) does not yet tell us on what basis economic wellbeing is built and who benefits from it. A research project funded by the European Union is developing policy practices and transformative indicators that promote sustainable wellbeing, economy, and sustainability paradigm. Tampere University leads a consortium of 14 partners on three continents.

A sustainable economy is a phenomenon that gives rise to much discussion across the world. The prevailing economic thinking is challenged by alternative approaches, such as the doughnut economy, the well-being economy and the notions of degrowth or postgrowth – all of which point towards a more sustainable economy. The EU project ToBe brings together these discussions on economic thinking.

Toward a sustainable wellbeing economy: Integrated policies and transformative indicators (ToBe) is a research project funded by the European Union which is studying and developing policy practices and new indicators to support a more sustainable economic system.

The EU project is led and coordinated by professor Liisa Häikiö, senior research fellow Tuuli Hirvilammi, researcher Alessia Greselin and project manager Maria Salonen from Tampere University.  In a joint collaboration of researchers, policymakers, and citizens, the ToBe project explores how these new ways of promoting and measuring wellbeing and economic sustainability contribute to build a sustainable world.
The study produces new results  on what is required for reforming wellbeing and economic understanding in support of the transition to sustainability.

“The need for a sustainable economic system is widely recognised, and Europe has set ambitious sustainability targets. Still, for the time being, we lack a clear path to achieve these goals,” Häikiö and Hirvilammi say.

“As economic innovations and different policy sectors cooperate, the holistic approach is in a better position for driving change. However, we also need indicators that  reflect the change towards sustainable development, especially carbon neutrality,” they continue.

The ToBe research explores policy measures  that could produce and redistribute wellbeing in a globally sustainable manner. For decision-making, the political system needs more information on the combined effects of economic, social, and ecological factors on wellbeing.

The project is also developing a macroeconomic model. This is used to express the links between sustainability measures and wellbeing impacts and to test how alternative policies would affect sustainability and well-being.

Multidisciplinarity approaches and co-creation of new economic thinking

The European Union is funding the ToBe project from its Horizon Europe Programme. Universities, research institutes and non-governmental organisations are involved.

On a practical level, the project examines transformative mindsets, indicators, innovations, and policies. Research data are collected across European and African countries, and in Ecuador. In addition to extensive analyses of statistical, survey and satellite imagery data, ToBe emphasises co-creation and inclusive approaches.  The study involves grassroots actors implementing new economic models in European cities, Rwanda, and Ecuador. The findings and results of the study will be interpreted together with stakeholders in roundtable discussions.

“New research findings may help to dismantle the prevailing ways of thinking that preserve  an economic system causing environmental damages. We aim to increase understanding  about the significance and effectiveness of alternative economic approaches,” the researchers say.

The ToBe project received EUR 3 million in EU research funding for a three-year period.

Project information

Towards a sustainable wellbeing economy: integrated policies and transformative indicators
European Commission (

ToBe - Toward a sustainable wellbeing economy

The participants in the Horizon Europe project led by Tampere University are:

  • Tampere University, Finland
  • VTT, Finland
  • Stockholms Universitet, Sweden
  • Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden                                        
  • EURADA, Belgium
  • Brussels Management School, Belgium            
  • Ghent University, Belgium                                         
  • European Policy Centre, Belgium
  • University of Barcelona, Spain                                              
  • Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain                
  • University of Leeds, United Kingdom                                                     
  • SciencesPo, OFCE, France
  • Institute for Political Ecology, Croatia
  • Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Ecuador