Basic Income and Working Time Reduction: what is their environmental impact?


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    Anastasia Cojocaru
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Anastasia Cojocaru introduces her research project looking at Basic Income and Working Time Reduction.


Bàrbara Castro Urío: Illustration for economic growth and degrowth

Why this research topic?

During my six-month internship with Future Earth Paris I decided to take on a research project on degrowth. Degrowth was initially launched as “a project of voluntary societal shrinking of production and consumption aimed at social and ecological sustainability” and later “developed into a  social movement” (Demaria et al., 2013: 192). As I was reading general articles on degrowth, I became interested in how degrowth principles can be implemented in society. I found out that there are many ways in which this can happen but two categories stood out: bottom-up and top-down. I chose to focus on the top-down approach since the bottom-up one had been widely researched through eco-communities and cooperatives, for example. I wanted to see which policies emerging from degrowth could be part of the top-down approach. My search led me to Basic Income and Working Time Reduction among other policies such as restrictions to advertising, awareness campaigns on how to degrow efficiently within the household, maximum income, social security guarantees, resource and CO2 caps, extraction limits, environmental taxation, social enterprises and cooperative firms, ethical banks, and the creation of commerce-free zones (Petridis et al., 2015: 195; Kallis, 2011: 873).


What are BI and WTR?

According to the Basic Income Earth Network (2017), Basic Income (BI) is defined as “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement” and has the “following five characteristics:

1. Periodic: it is paid at regular intervals (for example every month), not as a one-off grant.
2. Cash payment: it is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, allowing those who receive it to decide what they spend it on. It is not, therefore, paid either in kind (such as food or services) or in vouchers dedicated to a specific use.
3. Individual: it is paid on an individual basis—and not, for instance, to households.
4. Universal: it is paid to all, without means test.
5. Unconditional: it is paid without a requirement to work or to demonstrate willingness-to-work.”.

Working time reduction (WTR) is defined as “a reduction in the total levels of paid working time over the life course” (Pullinger, 2014: 11). This implies that an individual will be working less than 40 hours per week and that, in this manner, more jobs will be made available in the society (Raposo and Van Ours, 2008: 2). Moreover, this policy “could contribute to reducing the environmental impacts of the economy whilst maintaining and improving levels of wellbeing” (Pullinger, 2014: 11).

How did I evaluate the environmental impact of BI and WTR?

I interviewed organisers of experiments on BI from Finland, Spain, India, Scotland, the Netherlands and Namibia. On WTR I spoke to a company in Sweden. Moreover, I contacted and got responses from Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot in Canada, Eight (a Belgian development organisation currently implementing basic income pilots in Uganda), and the Svartedalen residential home in Gothenburg, Sweden, which had a WTR experiment in place as well as the researcher Dr Bengt Lorentzon who monitored the experiment there.

First, I asked the organisers about the general background of their experiment: the main motivation behind their choice to implement BI/WTR, indicators to measure the policy’s impact, their evaluation, and background information on how the experiment was implemented.

Second, I looked at income and consumption per capita levels. This included whether or not there was any change in the participants’ consumption behaviour compared to previous levels regarding their household (energy consumption, natural resource use), holidays & leisure activities, transport patterns (e.g. decrease in their use of cars/planes and increase in the use of bikes/public transport). Moreover, I also asked them about food choices (buying more organic food, participating in food sharing activities, becoming vegan or vegetarian), acquisition of goods for personal use, use of objects/facilities (through maintenance, repair, reuse), and end-of-life management of objects (collection, valorising, recycling). Furthermore, I wanted to find out if after becoming subjects of the policy participants got involved in the sharing economy (e.g. cooperative initiatives).

Third, I looked at their leisure time. I wanted to find out how participants were spending their leisure time before and after their participation in the BI/WTR experiments. It was essential to ask about which activities they engaged in during the experiment compared to those they took part in before participating in the experiment.  Whether or not participants engaged in any activities with a low environmental impact (e.g. cycling, hiking, reading, volunteering, DIY, and crafts) was a crucial aspect.

Fourth, I asked organisers what else could be done to ensure the better efficiency of BI and WTR and also which other policies or measures could be implemented alongside. Are these two policies currently feasible? Why and how?

What are the results? 

Environmental impact or environmental sustainability assessment is not often the objective of BI and WTR experiments, or it is not central, and thus poorly monitored. However, this does not diminish the value of the interviewed experiments. Environmental impact or environmental sustainability evaluation is just not part of their objectives, but that does not jeopardize their value or outcomes. My research project is looking at WTR and BI as pathways to environmental sustainability but the case studies do not make it possible to clearly state that those two policies help in transitioning towards a mode of sustainability that clearly includes environmental aspects. However, raising awareness towards a positive link between BI and WTR and their environmental impact is important for future research.

The case studies have proven to have a strong focus on social and economic aspects but they did not take environmental aspects into account. Still, given that the academic literature on this research question is not very large and given that few existing articles look at up-to-date top-down policies linked to this research question, it is worth pointing out that there are gaps in research regarding this topic. How can we research/understand experiments to see what can help us towards sustainability? What should future research be careful with? How could experiments better monitor multiple effects/side effects?

 In terms of policy recommendations, future trials need to have better monitoring and an improved design that includes environmental impacts. This would be beneficial for the experimenters because it can show that they do not only care for the wellbeing of people but also about the environment. Also, if future trials make environmental impact one of the main indicators to be measured, in order to have as accurate responses as possible about the environmental impact of these policies, there is a need to look at a sample that includes individuals from all groups in the society because current experiments only target social benefits recipients or very poor individuals. Moreover, there is potential for experimenters to do much more and to have a holistic view on sustainability that would also include environmental impact and develop into a coherent set of sustainability-oriented policies.

Further research should be looking at environmental impact on an individual level (interviewing the experiment participants). The entry point would be the people who participate in the experiment and not the companies, experimenters, or organizers. This approach was beyond the scope and means of the researcher.

Furthermore, future research should be looking at other policies linked to degrowth and environmental sustainability for a more detailed and comprehensive analysis of environmental impact. The present research shows a missing link between degrowth-related policies and the overall degrowth objective of environmental sustainability. Future research could thus question this missing link between alternative socio-economic systems on one side and lower environmental impacts on the other through exploring multiple examples of policies. This gap could be an opportunity for the degrowth narrative to be more developed, and to better understand the potential for coherence in sustainability policy efforts.

However, a widespread change in attitude that would lower individual environmental impact could be achieved if BI and WTR are coupled with other degrowth policies (e.g. restrictions to advertising, awareness campaigns on how to degrow efficiently within the household) (Kallis, 2011: 873). For instance, individuals might not necessarily choose to spend their time outside of work engaging in activities that will lower their environmental impact; it is strictly a matter of personal choice. Still, this could be achieved if there are policies that create incentives for individuals to spend time in activities that would lower their environmental impact, which suggests that BI and WTR would work best as part of policy coherence being in place. There is need for a coherent, global sustainability policy framework.

How can you get involved in the BI and WTR movement?

Keep an eye on this website for the full report on this topic and have a look at the Events section.



  1. Demaria, F., Schneider, F., Sekulova, F., and Martinez-Alier, J., (2013), ‘What is Degrowth? From an Activist Slogan to a Social Movement’, Environmental Values, Volume 22, pp. 191-215.
  2. Kallis, G., (2011), ‘In defence of degrowth’, Ecological Economics, Volume 70, pp. 873-880.
  3. Petridis, P., Muraca, B., and Kallis, G., (2015), ‘Degrowth: between a scientific concept and a slogan for social movement’, in Martinez-Alier, J. and Muradian, R. (eds), Handbook of Ecological Economics, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 176-200.
  4. Pullinger, M., (2014), ‘Working time reduction policy in a sustainable economy: Criteria and options for its design’, Ecological Economics, Volume 103, pp. 11-19.
  5. Basic Income Earth Network, (2017), ‘What is Basic Income?’, Available at <> [Accessed 21 November 2017].
  6. Raposo, P. S., and Van Ours, J. C., (2008), ‘How Working Time Reduction affects Employment and Earnings’, Institute for the Study of Labour, IZA Discussion Paper No. 3723.

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