Conflicting interpretations of sustainable development
Christina Olivecrona

Sustainable Business Studies

Chalmers University of Technology

SE 412 96 Göteborg

SwedenTel +46 31 772 1197
E-mail christina.olivecrona@chalmers.se

Many, if not all, researchers and practitioners dealing with issues related to sustainable development would agree on the importance of a sustainable development for the long-term wellbeing of the human race. But, when actions towards sustainability are taken, divergent views on what a sustainable action is start to flourish. A common understanding of the underlying assumptions of sustainable development is desirable. I believe, it would be fruitful to discuss sustainability using the concept of weak and strong sustainability. Should the three pillars of sustainable development (economy, environment and social) be equally strong or not?

In order to enhance the understanding why there are conflicting interpretations of sustainable development, the two pre-analytical visions describing the relation between the economy and the environment (neoclassical and ecological economics) presented by Daly (1999) are useful. In the neoclassical pre-analytical vision, the economic system is seen as the overall system and the ecosystem is a seen as a subsystem. According to this view there are no limits for how much the economy can grow; economic growth is both achievable and desirable. In the pre-analytical vision of ecological economics, the ecosystem is the overall system and the economic system a subsystem. According to this view, material economic growth cannot go on forever due to the limits the ecosystem puts upon the economy. From a neoclassical perspective, weak sustainability is sustainable whereas strong sustainability is needed in the ecological economics view. Is it weak or is it strong sustainability that is sustainable?


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7:00 AM-5:00 PM, Thursday, 28 April 2005, Oral

The Netherlands 2005 Meeting