15 April 2019

Frank Biermann and Joost Vervoort co-author award-winning sustainability paper

The paper ‘Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene’, co-authored by Prof Frank Biermann and Dr Joost Vervoort, has received the 2019 Innovations in Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America. The award is given to the authors of an interdisciplinary paper that “exemplifies leading edge work on solution pathways to sustainability challenges”.

The jury praises the article for its “multi-faceted research agenda for both social scientists and ecologists” and its “compelling examples” of initiatives around the world. “The publication calls attention not only to world-wide 'seeds of hope' for a brighter future, but also to continuing efforts to glean knowledge and experiences that will foster a healthier planet and a higher quality of life for its inhabitants.”

Shirakawa-go, Japan
Traditional Japanese village Shirakawa-go. Credit: iStock.com/LeeYiuTung

Initiatives of good practice

Scenarios for the future of the world are often either highly dystopian or overly optimistic, both of which are too simplistic. This is the point of departure of ‘Bright Spots: Seeds of a Good Anthropocene’ with Dr Elena Bennett from McGill University, Canada as lead author. Together with colleagues from 18 institutes, Biermann and Vervoort analysed a hundred initiatives of good practice that aim to improve social, ecological or economic dynamics and “represent a diversity of worldviews, values, and regions, but are not currently dominant or prominent in the world”. Examples are initiatives that aim to reduce ecological footprints, improve biodiversity or sustainable food production, or strive for more equal access to resources and education.

Good Anthropocene

According to Biermann, Vervoort and the other authors, these examples can improve and diversify the simplified worldviews as they provide understanding and inspiration of what people can change in the way they relate to nature. The authors call these promising examples the ‘seeds of a good Anthropocene’, referring to the proposed geological epoch describing the current period of significant human impact on the planet.

The jury praises the article for its “multi-faceted research agenda for both social scientists and ecologists”.


The authors will receive a plaque mentioning their Innovations in Sustainability Science Award at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in Louisville, United States, from 11-16 August.


About the authors

Frank Biermann is professor of Global Sustainability Governance at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University. Dr Joost Vervoort is an assistant professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University and a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.


Elena M Bennett, Martin Solan, Reinette Biggs, Timon McPhearson, Albert V Norström, Per Olsson, Laura Pereira, Garry D Peterson, Ciara Raudsepp‐Hearne, Frank Biermann*, Stephen R Carpenter, Erle C Ellis, Tanja Hichert, Victor Galaz, Myanna Lahsen, Manjana Milkoreit, Berta Martin López, Kimberly A Nicholas, Rika Preiser, Gaia Vince, Joost M Vervoort*, Jianchu Xu (2016). Bright Spots - Seeds of a good Anthropocene. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14 (8), pp. 441-448.

* = from Utrecht University.