Inclusive sustainability

Expected in the spring of 2025
How can sustainability policies be made more equitable and inclusive? What implications does this have for the way in which burdens and benefits are distributed and the way they are balanced up?
Living right next to the chemical industry of the Chemelot in Geleen

Background and request for advice

The challenge of making the Netherlands more sustainable is giving rise to major societal changes with a profound impact on the lives of all Dutch residents. It is therefore crucial that the government manages to connect with citizens and that sustainability policies are perceived as just and do not exclude anyone. Moreover, giving citizens greater input can lead to better policies. This means that everyone must have an equal opportunity to be involved in making Dutch society more sustainable and that the benefits and burdens of sustainability must be distributed equitably.

At present, the impact of many sustainability policies is not fairly distributed and sometimes even results in greater socio-economic inequality. Sustainability measures are often not very accessible for the people who need them most, because they are too complicated or require substantial financial investments, for example.

Inclusiveness also means that citizens feel seen and heard by the government and are convinced that interests have been weighed up fairly. Many Dutch people do not have this feeling. Consequently, while there is broad support for sustainability (70% of Dutch residents support the sustainability goals), sustainability policies themselves are much less widely supported. 

At the same time, delaying the sustainability transition also has its downsides, not least for people with a low socio-economic status. They are the very people who shoulder the burdens of 'unsustainability'. Lower-income households are more likely to be found in less healthy neighbourhoods, for instance. And it is the workers ‘on the shop floor’, not the management, who breathe in most of the pollutants in heavy industry. 

Recently, there has been a greater focus on inclusive sustainability in the political and public debate. However, many sustainability policies are still not inclusive and policymakers are looking for tools to help increase the inclusiveness of sustainability policies. Here they are focusing mainly on ensuring a just energy transition, while other sustainability transitions in the areas of nature, agriculture and a healthy living environment are neglected. Inclusive sustainability also means that citizens who do not share the sustainability goals are involved in the process of making the Netherlands more sustainable. But how? What scope is there for them not to support the sustainability goals while the government – backed by scientific facts and insights – regards sustainability as inevitable?

This leads us to the following question:

How can effective sustainability policies be developed in such a way that society at large is involved and goals and tools are both improved and widely supported? What demands does this make in terms of how the benefits and burdens of sustainability are distributed and the way they are balanced up, and how policy is formulated and implemented?


This advisory report is expected to be published in the spring of 2025

Composition of the Council committee

André van der Zande, Rli Council Member and chair of the committee

Erik Verhoef, Rli Council Member

External committee members:

Margreet van Gastel, former municipal alderman, independent consultant on sustainability and the energy transition, vice-chair of Liberal Green

Reint Jan Renes, Lecturer of Psychology for Sustainable Cities at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Katrien Termeer, Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Wageningen University

Information or response

To comment or for more information, please contact the project manager, Evert Nieuwenhuis, at, or on +31 (0)6 2192 6501