Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 69: Sustainability
J.B. (Hans) Opschoor Orientation ‘Sustainability’ is a quality or characteristic of a process, condition or structure (an ‘object’ hereafter), namely that it can be sustained (that is, maintained, supported, provided for) for an extended period of time, without net loss of valued qualities inside or outside of the system in which the object functions (compare Holdren et al. 1995). This definition is rather formal and empty. To become meaningful the objects of sustainability must be specified. Originally the notion of sustainability related to natural resources. The range of objects has since grown to include activities such as agriculture and mobility, development, cities, livelihoods, societies as a whole and even world orders. These objects rest on or are produced or reproduced by underlying processes and systems. This renders the question of an object’s sustainability a complex one, as in reality it depends on the continued (‘sustained’) functioning of these systems and processes. To make this complexity manageable it has been suggested that the concept be distinguished according to three main aspects: economic, social and ecological or environmental (for example, Lele 1991). In this contribution, we pay special attention to the environmental aspects and to the sustainability of development – both viewed through economists’ lenses. Sustainability is not only a many-faceted characteristic of objects, it is also approached from a variety of viewpoints including different disciplinary and paradigmatic (if not ideological) points of departure. This has triggered various discourses on sustainability. Related to sustainability as an objective, interest has shifted to processes of...
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