It’s hard to believe, but there is neither a universal definition nor a common history of the origins of sustainability. How did the idea emerge? What is the core meaning beyond the definitions?
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These 3 academic papers throw a light on the concept of sustainability by questioning its fundamentals through 3 different perspectives.
First - and one of my favourite studies - is from Purvis, Mao and Robinson: “Three pillars of sustainability: in search of conceptual origins”. The study was published in the Sustainability Science Magazine in 2018. If you would like to retrace the origins of the sustainability concept, this study will definitely guide you going in the deep pages of historical sustainability literature. You can also find it interesting to read “A Brief Journey To The Origins Of Sustainability” to get some impressions from the study.
Did you know that there were more than 140 alternative definitions for sustainability? If you are surprised, the study: “Reclaiming the Definition of Sustainability” estimates more than three hundred definitions for the term in literature. The authors Johnstons, Santilo, Everard, Robèrt warn in the paper: “ … 'sustainable development' is now a term which is increasingly regarded either as internally self-contradictory (an oxymoron) or, at best, plagued by ambiguous or distorted definitions. As a result, there are many constituencies which perceive the term 'sustainable development' as a vehicle to perpetuate many and varied corporate and institutional interests whilst giving the impression of adherence to, and observance of, environmentally-sound principles.” Monitoring the sustainability concept starting from the Brundtland Report in this study, the authors discuss the development of an economically-focused concept over time and draw an attention on the need for reclaiming the sustainability concept based on unambiguous terms.
Another very interesting viewpoint on defining sustainability is from the authors Costanza and Pattern. In their research paper “Defining and predicting sustainability”, the authors approach the complex issue of defining sustainability as “a prediction problem more than a definition problem”. They claim that there is a basic understanding behind sustainability, as: “a sustainable system is one which survives or persists”. However, in the paper they seek for answers for three conceptual questions, that are complementary to assess sustainability: “First what system, subsystem, or characteristics are to be sustained, second for how long they are to be sustained, and third when we can assess whether the system has actually been sustained.”
Do you have also academic papers to advice discussing the concept of sustainability? Please feel free to share it with us and we can put it on the Impact Garden.org!
About the author: Gulcin Per is part of the global team of volunteers contributing to the reboot of Impact Garden. She is also an MBA graduate and a business consultant. Her passion for windsurf and her role as a mother make her a strong advocate against climate change.