From the niche to the mainstream – How to spread sustainable practices

Despite many policy initiatives to strengthen sustainability in business and society, what has been done so far is insufficient for decisively addressing current sustainability challenges and environmental degradation. There are numerous local initiatives, companies and social innovators that have successfully established sustainable practices. They often operate in a niche but provide innovative ideas and alternatives that have the potential to improve sustainability on a greater scale.

In order to better understand the mainstreaming process and help policy-makers and others make informed decisions to spread and support these practices, DRIFT and the Ecologic Institute are working together on the ‘Von der Nische in den Mainstream’ (from niche to mainstream) research project.

A main outcome is an impact assessment methodology to evaluate the sustainability of practices, and to provide suitable categories to cluster practices (Wunder et al. 2018). Furthermore, the dynamics of mainstreaming processes were analysed to understand if and how qualities of what are considered sustainable niches change within the mainstreaming process.

DRIFT led a separate work stream on defining and providing a systematic overview of the emerging transformation research field. This included demarcating its boundaries, identifying overlaps with other research fields, specifying its goals and content foci, as well as providing an overview of research approaches and associated methods.

Interested in finding out more? Read the report of our 2016 academic expert workshop on transformation research in Berlin, which synthesizes key discussion points and formulates future research questions; our UBA working paper and our UBA project report (German), in which we argue that transformation research is not (yet) an established research field, but an emerging research perspective that joins together different research streams focusing on societal change towards sustainability; or our viewpoint in EIST, which discusses similarities and differences of the concepts ‘transition’ and ‘transformation’.

Duration of the project
March 2015 until November 2017

Client(s)/ Commissioning party
The project was funded by German Federal Environment Agency and German Federal Environment Ministry

Ecologic Institute

Julia Wittmayer and Katharina Hölscher


  • Hölscher, K., Wittmayer, J.M. and Loorbach, D. (2017) Transition versus Transformations: What’s the difference? Environmental Innovation and Sustainability Transitions. Link.
  • Wittmayer, J.M., and Hölscher, K. (2017) Transformationsforschung – Definitionen, Ansätze und Methoden. Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt. PDF.
  • Wittmayer, J.M., Hölscher, K., Wunder, S. and S. Veenhoff (2018) Transformation research – exploring methods for an emerging research field. Umweltbundesamt Texte 01/2018. Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt. Link.
  • Wittmayer, J.M. and Hölscher, K. (2016) Transformation research – Goals, Contents and Methods. Workshop Report. Rotterdam: DRIFT. PDF.