Sustainable Development Concepts and Theories

Paradoxes of sustainability

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Helen Kopnina

The concept of sustainability the way most of us use it today has emerged in the 1960s in response to concern about environmental degradation and social equity. Many different uses of the term sustainability as well as its derivatives, such as social sustainability, environmental sustainability, sustainable development, sustainable living, sustainable future, and others have emerged. Environmental sustainability typically refers to issues associated with challenges ranging from climate change to biodiversity loss to pollution. Sustainability is also linked to ethical concerns, typically involving a commitment to justice between generations in matters of distribution of wealth, working conditions and human rights.

Sometimes, overwhelmed by the challenges of unsustainability some of us have despaired at the possibility to actually address the status quo – either because they feel individually powerless to change anything, or because of the lack of interest. Others feel that sustainability challenges, such as overpopulation and overconsumption, are grossly exaggerated. Others – particularly large corporations in their public relations have expressed their optimism about their own contribution to sustainability, assuming that no further effort is necessary.

This doubt, despair and optimism have salient implications on how we react to sustainability challenges.  Despite these challenges, there is a pronounced need to provide the corporate leaders with concrete steps on how to travel down the sustainable path together with examples or applications. Few authors come up with the clear framework for sustainable solutions, as I have discussed in the two recent volumes Sustainable Business: Key Issues (Kopnina and Blewitt 2015) and Sustainability: Key Issues (Kopnina and Shoreman-Ouimet 2016).

In these volumes, the contributing authors have argued that in order to address sustainability challenges, we need to understand the bottlenecks of population pressures as well as production and consumption challenges as people, governments or corporations take action in line with their values depending on the scale of the barriers. It was also argued that we also need to understand paradoxes of sustainability, including a number of questions that embody these paradoxes or myths of unsustainability, for example: What do pension funds have to do with sustainable business? Why is eco-efficiency not good enough to achieve sustainable production? How do better health and more equitable distribution of resources contribute to unsustainability? In this blog I shall give an indication of the direction of these inquiries in my teaching practice.

In my teaching practice, we explore these and many other questions with students on the basis of a number of critical publications on the subject of sustainability by William Rees, Herman Daly, Haydn Washington and Eileen Crist. The students were also asked to read a number of interdisciplinary publications in order to develop their own critical thinking about the subject. These helped them to address the three questions above.

In regard to pension funds and sustainability, the connection could be made through the concept of green investment, which fits within a larger literature on direct and indirect environmental impacts. Social psychologists Paul Stern (2000) has distinguished between two types of environmental impacts: direct and indirect. Some behavior directly causes environmental change, with examples of direct dumping of nuclear waste or cutting down the rainforest. Other behavior can be indirectly significant, such as investments done in the logging industry through pension funds, or through savings. Thus, the ability to move pension funds to a green-investment bank can have a greater environmental impact than merely recycling one’s own newspaper. Directly, addressing population may simultaneously help to tackle poverty as the global pressure on resources will be lessened. Such investment would also indirectly help to protect endangered species through reducing human pressure on last remaining wild habitats.

In regard to eco-efficiency, the Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy concepts are employed. Based on the notion of industrial metabolisms, William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002) developed the notion of the Cradle to Cradle (C2C). McDonough and Braungart ask us to contemplate not just minimizing the damage the way eco-efficiency does, but eliminating it all together. First, C2C critiques many tenants of conventional minimization of damage strategies, such as eco-efficiency, a system that does more with less. While eco-efficiency is currently favoured in sustainability discourse, according to C2C it only serves to ‘slow the process of destruction’ and ‘makes a bad design last longer’.  

Instead, the C2C framework propagates a simply dictum: waste equals food. A cherry tree metaphor exemplifies the example of C2C principle, with its ‘waste’ (blossoms and berries) that are either consumed or fall to the ground and decompose into food for soil, with nutrients flowing indefinitely in cycles of birth, decay and rebirth. Understanding these regenerative systems allows engineers and designers to recognize that all materials can be designed as nutrients that flow through natural (biological) or designed (technological) metabolisms.   In permacultures, for example, materials designed as biological nutrients, such as textiles and packaging made from natural fibers, can biodegrade safely and restore soil after use. In this closed-loop system products can be fully dismantled so that their elements can be returned to biological or technical metabolisms. Ideally, every product can be designed from the outset so that after its lifetime is over, the product will then continue to ‘live’ by becoming a nutrient, creating inherently benign material flows.

In regard to the last and perhaps the most ethically loaded question about how better health and more equitable distribution of resources can contribute to unsustainability challenges, we turn to a more critical literature on long-term effects of current sustainability policies. While focused on the symptoms of unsustainable practices, including resource depletion, climate change and poverty, conventional framework tends to ignore the ethical and practical contradictions. One of these contradictions involves the desire to improve human health and material well-being on the one hand, and to secure the carrying capacity of this planet on the other hand.

While many policy makers, commercial companies, and members of civil society are aware of the symptoms of unsustainability, few of them have realized the core challenges of unsustainability. Few sustainability programs have addressed the root causes of poverty, part of which is population growth itself, and the global spread of unsustainable practices. While many businesses, for example, have accepted poverty elevation and economic aid to developing countries as normative in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies, few of them invest in family planning or attempt to halt production of unsustainable products. Yet, in order to achieve sustainability aims, businesses, as well as public and government stakeholders need to learn to better understand not only these challenges, but also the mechanisms underlying unsustainable practices. Once these challenges and mechanisms are understood, a more positivistic turn toward solutions becomes possible.


Crist, E. Abundant earth and population. In P. Cafaro & E. Crist (Eds.), Life on the brink: Environmentalists confront overpopulation (pp. 141–153). Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2012.

Daly, H.E.  Steady State Economics. Island Press, Washington. 1991.

Kopnina, H. and Blewitt, J. Sustainable Business: Key issues. Routledge Earthscan, New York. 2014.

Kopnina, H. and Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (eds) Sustainability: Key issues. Routledge, New York. 2015.

McDonough, W. and Braungart, M. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2002.

Rees, W. What’s blocking sustainability? Human nature, cognition, and denial. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy. 2010; 6(2):13-25.

Stern, P. Toward a Coherent Theory of Environmentally Significant Behavior. Journal of Social Issues. 2000; 56(3):407–424.

Washington, H. Demystifying Sustainability: Towards Real Solutions. London, Routledge. 2015.

Case Study: Change Agents and the Butterfly Metaphor

Margaret Robertson

Something remarkable happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Perhaps it will remind you of what happens when solitary people and small groups begin to coalesce into emergent networks of change agents. The parallel illustrates the vividness of metaphors.

A caterpillar is an efficient eating machine. As it eats, it grows so rapidly that it outgrows its skin and molts, usually four times. During the final molt, hormones begin sending new signals. The caterpillar loses its appetite, stops eating, and spins a silk pad on the underside of a leaf. It grabs the pad with hooks on its back legs and sets to work spinning a chrysalis.

The chrysalis is a hard protective case within which the next step of the process unfolds. During this step, the caterpillar must digest itself. In what appears to be a self-destructive act, it releases enzymes which dissolve its own tissues. If you were to cut open a chrysalis during these three or four days, in place of the caterpillar you would find what appears to be an undifferentiated, amorphous soup. But inside this soup, nearly invisible, are outlines of the future: tiny groups of imaginal cells, organized into embryonic clusters known as imaginal discs, which survive this digestive process and do not dissolve. (An imago, from the Latin word for “image,” is a sexually mature adult. Thus an imaginal cell is a cell which will become part of the adult.) These cells are different from the rest of a caterpillar’s cells, so its immune system treats them as enemies and tries unsuccessfully to attack them. The immune system is like an existing power structure; it must destroy alternative structures if it is to survive. As the imaginal cells begin dividing and growing in number, the immune system continues to attack but eventually the immune system is exhausted by the overwhelming numbers, and the caterpillar’s former body dissolves.

Once the caterpillar has dissolved, the protein in the caterpillar soup becomes fuel for the imaginal discs. Now these discs begin rapid cell division, with each disc specializing in some part of the butterfly-to-be. Some discs become eyes; others become wings or antennae. Clusters of imaginal cells in increasingly organized structures begin exchanging information, connecting together, forming networks. Diversity within community is the order of the day and there is room for everyone: an eye does not need to become a wing, for example. Each is important, and a butterfly needs them all.


Blackiston, Douglas J., Elena Silva Casey, and Martha R. Weiss. “Retention of Memory through Metamorphosis: Can a

Moth Remember What It Learned As a Caterpillar?” PLoS One, vol. 3 no. 3 (March 5, 2008): e1736.

Brower, Lincoln. “Inside the Chrysalis.” Journey North. Annenberg Learner.

Elkington, John. “Corporate Strategy in the Chrysalis Economy.” Corporate Environmental Strategy, vol. 9 no. 1 (2001): 5–12.

Huddle, Norie. Butterfly. Huddle Books, 1990.

Jabr, Ferris. “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” Scientific American, August 10, 2012.

O’Toole, Christopher, ed. The Encyclopedia of Insects. New York: Facts On File, 1986.

Parish, Billy and Dev Aujla. Making Good. New York: Rodale, 2012.

Case Study: Responsibility to Future Generations

John Blewitt

Sustainable development operates over both time and space and at its core is our responsibility for future generations. Barbara Adam has published a Challenge Paper for the UK-based Schumacher Institute on the ethical implications of this. She writes:

As cultural and social beings we are inescapably future oriented. How we live and
produce futures, however, is biographically, culturally and socially distinct. It changes historically, over our lifetime and with specific contexts. As knowledge practices, approaches to the future have consequences. Today the consequences of technological action in particular present us with a new context for accountability and responsibility. It is the challenge to moral conduct, presented by the contemporary context, I want to consider here.

She asks three very important questions:

  1. What is our responsibility to the future?
  2. Is it possible to be responsible for futures we create?
  3. Are we and should we be responsible to future generations?

Please download her Challenge Paper and see if you agree or disagree with her reasoning.

Paper available at:

Case Study: Schwarzenegger's Guiltless Green

John Blewitt

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California made a keynote speech at a global warming conference at Georgetown University in 2007. He said:

For too long the environmental movement has been powered by guilt. You know the kind of guilt I'm talking about: Smokestacks belching pollution and powering our Jacuzzis and our big-screen TVs and, in my case, powering my private airplanes. It's too bad for us that we can't live the lives of Buddhist monks in Tibet, but you know something, it doesn't happen.

I don't think any movement has ever made much progress based on guilt. Guilt is passive, guilt is inhibiting and guilt is defensive. … Successful movements are built on passion, they're not built on guilt. They are built on passion, they are built on confidence and they are built on critical mass.

California as you know is big, California is powerful and what we do in California has an unbelievable impact. We are sending the world a message, what we are saying is we're going to change the dynamic on greenhouse gases and carbon emissions.

I was followed around by environmental protesters with signs. They didn't like my humvees and Hummers and my SUVs or anything that I did, so even when I promised I would improve the environment when I became governor, they didn't believe I would. Here we are now, 3 1/2 years later, and I'm on the cover of Newsweek as one of the big environmentalists. Only in America.

We don't have to go and take away the muscle cars. We don't have to take away Hummers or SUVs or anything like this, because that's a formula for failure. Instead we have to make those cars more environmentally muscular.

The tipping point will be occurring when the environment is no longer seen as a nag, but as a positive force in people's lives. I don't know when the tipping point occurs, but I know where – in California.

Source: Schwarzenegger quotes from Coile (2007) San Francisco Chronicle.

The question is: can you drive a Hummer and sport a green warrior badge?


Coile, Z. (2007) Schwarzenegger's Guiltless Green: he touts keeping muscle cars, but filling up on biofuel. San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, available at:

Case Study: 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.


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Margaret Robertson

Research Problems

  1. Write one or two paragraphs describing the word “environment.” Include the etymology or origin of the word, its definitions, and your observations about how the word appears in common usage.
  2. Write a brief report on the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster long-term thinking.
  3. Find as many different definitions as you can (within reason) of “sustainability” and “sustainable development.” List the definitions and their sources. Explain which you think is best, and why.
  4. Find a copy of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and read his essay, “The Land Ethic.” Write several paragraphs in response. What were Leopold’s central ideas? What does he say about ethics? What does he say about community?
  5. Write a paper, or create a presentation to share with your class, about the Earth Charter Initiative. Briefly describe its history and summarize the 16 sustainability principles. A few writers have criticized the Charter as being too vague; why do you think its creators did not choose to be more specific?
  6. What are the goals of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as the “Rio 2012 Conference”?
  7. Information visualization is an interdisciplinary area of study concerned with displaying connections and relationships among large collections of abstract data. Its graphic representations can be used to yield new insights in fields as diverse as cell chemistry, computer architecture, and social networks, as well as many other kinds of academic scholarship. Research this field, then write a brief paper which explains the basic concepts for a lay audience. What applications can you envision for the interdisciplinary study of sustainability?

Projects and Group Activities

  1. When you are interviewed for a job, you will need to be able to answer questions thoughtfully and concisely. You might find it helpful to gather a notebook of “elevator speeches” you can study as you prepare for interviews. As you read this textbook, compile a list of core sustainability concepts. Write your own succinct elevator speech for each one, and collect these in a notebook.
  2. Write a description of your ideal sustainability career. For example, would it be in the private or public sector? In a big corporation, a small nonprofit organization, or education? Would you like to lead or work behind the scenes? Would you like to interact with just a few people or with lots of people? What kind of subspecialty would you like to focus on? Would you enjoy putting your ideas and energy to work through science, or artistic expression, or perhaps a combination?
  3. In a group, think about what a sustainable world might include. Record your ideas on a flipchart, whiteboard, or computer screen. How would humans, animals, and plants share the planet? How large might the human population be? How might humans provision themselves with food, water, and shelter? What raw material and energy sources would we use? How might humans find beauty, meaning, and intellectual growth?
  4. Write several paragraphs describing in your own words what a sustainable world might include.
  5. Imagine that you are historians living 100 or perhaps 200 years from now. The prospects were grim in the early twenty-first century, but Earth and humanity have lived through mass extinctions, changing climates, and other upheavals, and have come out the other side into a sustainable world which is unlike the one we inhabit today. Early adaptations went unnoticed by most people, but eventually these changes came together, resulting in a sea change in the human presence on the planet. Human societies have become decent and nourishing, and the health of the biosphere is slowly recovering. You are now consultants on a project which will document how the shift occurred. Imagine what this world will look like, and discuss as a group what humans did successfully to make the changes.
  6. This “thought experiment” asks you to expand your time horizon. Write two paragraphs imagining what the world might be like in the next 1000 years. In the first and shorter paragraph, summarize some changes you might predict if humanity were unable to adopt a sustainable path. In the second paragraph, describe a hopeful vision of what the world might be like in the next 1000 years.
  7. Throughout the coming term or semester, collect and share with each other examples of inaccurate perspectives from public media. You may be able to find examples that deal with time, magnitude, cultural preferences, or other attributes. For example, packaging on one product states that the company’s founding in 1966 “forever changed the way Americans do business,” although the elapsed time was only a few decades. A documentary may refer to “a species which has always lived in these mountains,” although habitats, climates, and mountains do not stay the same over long time periods. A writer may believe that a particular worldview is common to all people, when the view is only held within that writer’s cultural group. Write individual reflections on what you found. What types of statements did you find? What do you think caused them?
  8. As a class, compile a resource index for topics in sustainability. Each person will focus on one topic. Work together as a group to determine what topics should be included, who will take which topic, how the index will be compiled, what format you will use, and any other details. For your assigned topic, prepare a list of recognized sources to which your colleagues can turn to get information. As applicable, list publications (journals, important reference books, and whether they are available in your library); people (local or national experts in your topic); organizations (national standards organizations, governmental agencies, and trade associations); significant laws or regulations; standards and codes; and any other important sources (for example, a university with a research institute which specializes in your topic). When complete, distribute a copy of the index to each member of the class.
  9. Collect and share magazines, advertisements, and other printed items that are destined to be recycled. Create a collage, one per person, to illustrate the idea of interconnection or other concepts of sustainability of your choice. To make a collage, cut out illustrations, shapes, colors, or text and glue them to recycled cardboard. Don’t worry if your collage is not an artistic creation; your goal is to communicate ideas. Schedule a class pin-up day, and let each person briefly explain the concept they were expressing and why they chose the images they did.

Group Activities

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  1. Dimensions of sustainability

    Submitted by: Blanche Higgins and Martin Mulligan, RMIT University, Australia

    Background to the activity

    In 2010, the Academy Award-winning film-maker Josh Fox made a documentary about his personal encounters with the practice of hydrological fracturing (‘fracking’), which aims to release relatively small pockets of natural gas for subsequent collection. The documentary, called Gasland, helped to build public opposition to growing fracking operations in the United States and evoked a strong reaction from the natural gas industry.

    For this activity the group should watch the trailer for the documentary at and a response from the gas industry at  Participants should be advised to watch the full documentary before participating in the activity if possible.

    Activity purpose

    To consider how the Social Ecology sustainability model might sort out rival claims about the sustainability of the fracking industry.

    Activity description

    Taking the standpoint of people living in an area where fracking is being mooted, the group will do a quick cost-benefit analysis of the proposal under the headings below. Note that while it may not be possible for activity participants to weigh up the accuracy of rival claims about the impacts of fracking, the group should aim to list as many potential costs and benefits as they can, even if some of them require subsequent verification or research.

    1. Personal: Costs and benefits of fracking to individual people who will feel the impacts of fracking operations and/or be able to consume the harvested gas.
    2. Environmental: Costs and benefits of fracking for the non-human environment.
    3. Social: Costs and benefits for society in the United States as a whole, including perceived economic costs and benefits (not to be precisely quantified).

    Having carried out the cost-benefit analysis under the three headings, the group must reach a majority decision on whether or not it supports or opposes the fracking operations.

    Discussion questions

    1. Which factors carried the most weight in influencing the decision you made?
    2. Is it simply a matter of weighing up competing costs and benefits or are some costs too high to be allowed? What kinds of costs are non-negotiable?
    3. How convinced were you by the gas industry response to Gasland? What was it about the gas industry response that swayed your feelings one way or the other?
  2. Introduction to scenarios mapping

    Submitted by: Blanche Higgins and Martin Mulligan, RMIT University, Australia


    A proper scenarios-mapping workshop requires a lot of preparation and time to work towards a range of plausible future scenarios related to a particular context. This exercise is aimed at providing a glimpse into what is involved. It asks the group to contemplate what life might be like in their city or town 50 years into the future.

    Step 1

    If the group has more than eight people present, break it into smaller groups of 4‒6 each. Each group should aim to identify ‘drivers of uncertainty’ that are likely to pose major challenges for the city or town during the next 50 years.

    Step 2

    Once key drivers of uncertainty have been collated by the group as a whole, each small group can pick one or two to focus on. They should then discuss how the driver(s) of uncertainty might affect daily life in the town or city 50 years from now.

    Step 3

    Each small group should aim to write a concise description of life in the city or town in 50 years time which takes into account changes that have occurred and possible adaptations to disturbances that have unfolded.

    Step 4

    Small group descriptions to be read out and then discussed by the group as a whole.

    Discussion questions

    1. What is most surprising about the descriptions of the future?
    2. Do the descriptions provide grounds for hope that the city or town will cope with changes and uncertainties that have unfolded?
    3. What could be done to avoid the worst scenarios depicted in the descriptions?
  3. 3. 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?

Recommended Routledge Books

Supplementary Reading




Free Journal Articles

Lieske Voget-Kleschin, ‘Employing the Capability Approach in Conceptualizing Sustainable Development’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities
Amartya Sen, ‘The Ends and Means of Sustainability’Journal of Human Development and Capabilities
Andrew Crabtree, ‘Sustainable Development: Does the Capability Approach have Anything to Offer? Outlining a Legitimate Freedom Approach’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities
Ortrud Lessmann & Felix Rauschmayer, ‘Re-conceptualizing Sustainable Development on the Basis of the Capability Approach: A Model and Its Difficulties’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities
Eric Neumayer, ‘Human Development and Sustainability’ Journal of Human Development and Capabilities

Video Links

  1. 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.

  2. Gro Harlem Brundtland Interview, Part 1

    Duration: 1:11

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

  3. Gro Harlem Brundtland: A Tribute

    Duration: 2:38

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. What is the triple bottom line?

    Duration: 11:12

    In this 2011 presentation, the person who coined the term ‘triple bottom line’ ‒ John Elkington ‒ explains why it was needed, how it has evolved and how it has encouraged corporate social responsibility.

  7. Stuart Hill and the Sandbox Syndrome

    Duration: 3:48

    Professor Hill works with the parable of the sandbox, in which children are forced to play with, or alongside, strangers to consider how people might be able to overcome prejudices or fears of other people.

  8. Systems Thinking

    Duration: 7:28

    A clever whiteboard animation presentation by James Swanson that introduces some key principles of systems thinking.

  9. Navigating Webs of Independence, Peter Senge

    Duration: 5:17

    In this 2011 presentation, renowned MIT academic Peter Senge explains that we all live in systems in our family life, and that we can reflect on that experience to work out better ways to operate in teams and workplace organisations.

  10. Introduction to Scenarios Planning

    Duration 4:04

    This video makes good use of animations to introduce some key principles of scenarios planning.

  11. Strategy 101 ‒ Scenarios Planning

    Duration: 9:48

    In this 2013 presentation, UK business studies academic Christian Stadler goes through a five-step approach to Scenarios Planning.

Blogs and Websites

  • 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.

    United Nations Sustainable Development Commission

  • 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.

    Worldwatch 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.

    Earth Policy Institute

  • John Blewitt’s blog around the new edition of “Understanding Sustainable Development”.

  • The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has carried out important research about international public policy for sustainable development.

  • IBR research and consultancy group providing a good account of the history and development of TBL as a composite index. The description includes some examples of how TBL has been used in North America.

    Indiana Business Review: Triple Bottom line

  • Stuart Hill has been the foremost advocate of the Social Ecology model of sustainability since it emerged at the University of Western Sydney in the 1990s. This website provides access to a range of PowerPoint slide presentations Professor Hill made between 2007 and 2012.

    Professor Stuart B. Hill

  • Following unexpected international interest in his 2001 proposal that cultural vitality should be seen as the ‘fourth pillar’ of sustainability, Australian author Jon Hawkes has established this website to further promote the idea and share relevant news.

    The Fourth Pillar

  • This website provides a good introduction to the principles and practices of systems thinking. It presents models, simulations and resources for businesses and organisations wanting to work with such models.

    Systems thinking