An Introduction to


Chapter 2


Annotated Bibliography

  1. Robertson, Margaret 2014, Sustainability Principles and Practice, chapter 2, Abingdon: Earthscan/Routledge

    This chapter presents a wide overview of the history of sustainability in western thought, stretching back to Thomas Malthus in 1798. It emphasises the environmental dimensions of sustainability.

  2. Washington, Haydn 2015, Demystifying Sustainability: Towards real solutions, Abingdon: Earthscan/Routledge

    Washington stretches the historical framework even further than Robertson, going back to some indigenous worldviews and the growth of ecological understanding in the 1960s, It argues for some deep social and cultural changes

  3. Beder, Sharon 2006, Environmental Principles and Policies: An interdisciplinary approach, Sydney: UNSW Press.

    Sharon Beder emerged as a prominent Australian environmental activist/scholar in the 1980s and gained international recognition for her sharp critique of attempts to undermine the credibility of environmental discourses in Global Spin (1997). Environmental Principles and Policies is a more sanguine overview of the ideas that have given rise to the global discourse on sustainability.

  4. Blewitt, John 2008, Understanding Sustainable Development, London: Earthscan.

    With an academic background in politics, history and sociology and experience in teaching Social Responsibility and Sustainability to postgraduate students in a business school in Birmingham, UK, John Blewitt contributed a book that most closely resembles an introductory textbook.

  5. Dresner, Simon 2008, The Principles of Sustainability, London: Earthscan.

    Simon Dresner’s book has been highly regarded since it was first published in 2002. It is admired for its analysis of key sustainability discourses.

  6. Shiva, Vandana 2005, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace, Cambridge MA: Southend Press.

    Trained in quantum physics and philosophy, Vandana Shiva has been a prominent critic of western models of economic development since the early 1980s. In this book she argues that an emerging global movement for peace, justice and sustainability is drawing on ancient worldview and non-western cultural practices.

  7. Adger, W. Neil and Andrew Jordan (eds), 2009, Governing Sustainability, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    This volume includes contributions from some of the world’s leading thinkers on new forms of governance that will be required to meet the challenges of sustainability, from the local to the global.

  8. Thiele, Leslie Paul, 2013, Sustainability, Cambridge: Polity

    This is a broad-ranging and accessible examination of the history and contested meanings of ‘sustainability’ as we know it today. Thiele argues that we need to move from thinking about conservation to an emphasis on innovation and cultural creativity. Recommended for undergraduate students.

  9. Jackson, Tim 2009, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, Abingdon: Earthscan

    Ecological economist Tim Jackson has been both an academic and government adviser in the UK. In this book he argues that decoupling economics from ‘growth’ is no longer revolutionary but undeniably necessary.

  10. Barry, John 2012, The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability: Human Flurishing in a Climate-Changed, Carbon-Constrained World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    A rather passionate argument against business as usual or ‘techno-optimism’ from a lively and entertaining Irish academic writer with a high international profile in environmental politics and ecological economist.

Annotated Links to Further Web Resources

  1. United Nations Sustainable Development Commission

    The UN Sustainable Development Commission was established within the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 1993 to continue some of the work initiated by the UN Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was responsible for the 1989 Brundtland Report and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. This website provides access to relevant UN publications, such as the final report emerging from the Rio+20 conference in 2012 which is titled The Future We Want.

  2. Worldwatch Institute

    This Washington-based institute was established in 1974 by farmer-turned-agricultural economist Lester Brown. It is probably best known for its annual State of the World reports, but it also publishes other reports which provide a critical perspective on sustainability policies and practices.

  3. Earth Policy Institute

    This institute was set up by Lester Brown after he left the larger Worldwatch Institute in 2002. With a fairly small team of researchers, Earth Policy Institute has published several books by Lester Brown and it aims to provide resources for environmental activists.

  4. Groningen Growth and Development Centre

    Located at the University of Groningen, Netherlands the GGDC provides a website which collates datasets comparing economic development strategies and outcomes across many nations.

Annotated Links to Video Clips

  1. Sustainability: A history by Jeremy Cardonna

    Duration: 5:29

    A well-presented and accessible account of the history of the idea, which suggests pre-industrial origins of the word in European languages which has subsequently taken on wider meanings and greater urgency because of the evident unsustainability of industrial capitalism

  2. I'm A Lucky Person,Gro Harlem Brundtland

    Duration: 4:49

    In this clip, Gro Harlem Brundtland looks back on a rather extraordinary life in which she became Norway's first female prime minister and the lead author of a UN report which added substance and urgency to previously abstract notions of sustainability.

  3. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Interview part 1

    Duration: 1:11

    In this 2007 interview, Gro Harlem Brundland reflects on the impact of the 1987 report Our Common Future,which is so closely associated with her name.

  4. Gro Harlem Brundtland: A Tribute

    Duration: 2:38

    In this short 2009 clip, United State Secretary of State Hilary Clinton praises the lifetime contribution made by Gro Harlem Brundtland.

  5. Reflecting on Rio: Looking Back to 1992

    Duration: 3:22 

    Twenty years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, some of the prominent players in that event reflect on what was achieved and what its legacy has been.

  6. Severn Cullis-Suzuki returns to Rio 20 years after stopping the world

    Duration: 10:58

    In 1992, 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki ‒ daughter of Canadian writer Tara Elizabeth Cullis and environmentalist David Suzuki ‒ caught the world's attention for a heart-felt speech delivered at the Rio Earth Summit, in which she said that she was deeply concerned for her own future. Twenty years later she returned for Rio+20 to speak about the concern she feels for her children's future.

  7. Tim Jackson: An economic reality check

    Duration: 24:31

    A well-presented TED talk by the leading international ecological economist Tim Jackson explaining why the world cannot continue with existing trends in economic growth and development. An accessible account of the blind spots in global economic systems.

Group Activities

Tragedy of the Commons game

Submitted by: Arley Marks, RMIT University, Australia

Group is split into five groups (nations) which all have a cup of lollies (carbon emissions). In the centre of the room/table is an empty bowl which represents the amount by which emissions need to be reduced worldwide to contain global warming to less than two degrees centigrade. The overall goal of the game is for groups to negotiate and ensure that the bowl (the ‘commons’) is filled with lollies. Nobody gets to eat any lollies until the bowl is full.

However, the individual group/nation that manages to reduce their own emissions/lollies the LEAST wins a super exciting mystery prize (the ‘commons’ bowl) (plus whatever lollies are left in their cup).

If you want to make it more complicated/realistic, allocate different amounts of lollies to different countries based on ratio of emissions per capita.

Supply the following data to each of the nations (I used sticky labels on the lolly cups). What factors will influence their decision about what is a ‘fair’ input from each?

China: 26% (8,286,892 thousand tonnes annually) (4.9 thousand tonnes per capita)

USA: 17% (5,433,057 thousand tonnes) (16.4 per capita)

Australia: 1.19 % (373,081 thousand tonnes) (18.8 per capita)

Cambodia: 0.01% (4,180 thousand tonnes) (0.3 per capita)

Denmark: 0.15% (46,303 thousand tonnes) (8.4 per capita)

Discussion questions:

  1. What were the arguments/decision making criteria that came up in deciding who should allocate the most lollies to the commons bowl?
  2. What worldviews are evident? Did we frame this as a shared problem that everyone should play an equal role in solving (equality of input), or a problem stemming from some players having to give more than others (diversity of input)?
  3. What was our goal? (Equity in outcomes, or diversity?) Why?
  4. Who became the most powerful and the most vulnerable in this game?
  5. What was the complexity in the situation? How did competing vested interests hinder this process?
  6. What would have made it easier to fill the commons?

Additional Case Studies

Durban leads the way in South Africa

Submitted by Martin Mulligan, RMIT University, Melbourne

1994 was the year that Nelson Mandela was elected president in post-apartheid South Africa. It was also the year that Durban became the first city in the country to commit to the Local Agenda 21 action strategy that emerged from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. As a result, the Environmental Management Branch (EMB) of the Durban Metropolitan Council gained a national and international reputation for its pioneering work. This included implementation of Environmental Impact Assessments, development of an open space plan for the city, and innovative community education work that featured resident interviews and street theatre performed by Green Bafana. Durban’s Local Agenda 21 initiatives won praise at the World Summit on Environment and Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 and from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

According to Roberts and Diederichs (2002), Durban’s Local Agenda 21 has been hampered by a lack of real political support and, consequently, resources. Critics have suggested that it is a luxury to worry about ‘green issues’ when the country faces so many social problems. Another challenge is that the municipal area of Durban has grown from 300 square kilometres to 1,366 square kilometres, and Durban has now become part of an even bigger urban conglomeration covering 2,297 square kilometres which is known as Unicity. However, the work of Durban EMB has been reflected in the development of an Environmental Services Management Plan for the larger municipality known as the eThekwini Municipality. This includes the adoption of an open spaces plan for a municipality that includes large peri-urban and rural areas.

1994 was a year of great promise for Durban, and for South Africa as a whole. While it has proved to be more difficult than expected to stick to the commitments of Local Agenda 21, Durban has continued to provide national and international leadership on sustainability policy and practice.

Key reference:

Debra Roberts and Nicci Diederichs, 2002, ‘Durban’s Local Agenda 21 programme: Tackling sustainability in a post-aparteid city,’ Environment and Urbanization 14(1): 189-201.