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World Development, Vol. 19, No. 6, pp. 607-621, 1991. 0305-750X/91 $3.111/+ 0.

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Printed in Great Britain. 1991 Pergamon Press pie

Sustainable Development" A Critical Review

SHARACHCHANDRA M. Lt~Lt~*
Energy & Resources Group, Universityof California, Berkeley

Summary. - - Over the past few years, k'Sustainable Development" (SD) has emerged as the
latest development catchphrase. A wide range of nongovernmental as well as governmental
organizations have embraced it as the new paradigm of development. A review of the literature
that has sprung up around the concept of SD indicates, however, a lack of consistency in its
interpretation. More important, while the all-encompassing nature of the concept gives it
political strength, its current formulation by the mainstream of SD thinking contains significant
weaknesses. These include an incomplete perception of the problems of poverty and
environmental degradation, and confusion about the role of economic growth and about the
concepts of sustainability and participation. How these weaknesses can lead to inadequacies and
contradictions in policy making is demonstrated in the context of international trade, agriculture,
and forestry. It is suggested that if SD is to have a fundamental impact, politically expedient
fuzziness will have to be given up in favor of intellectual clarity and rigor.

1. I N T R O D U C T I O N irreconcilable positions in the environment-


development debate to search for c o m m o n
The last few years have seen a dramatic ground without appearing to compromise their
transformation in the e n v i r o n m e n t - d e v e l o p m e n t positions.~ If, however, this political meeting of
debate. The question being asked is no longer minds and the concept of SD are both products of
" D o d e v e l o p m e n t and environmental concerns new insights into the relationship between social
contradict each o t h e r ? " but " H o w can sustain- and environmental p h e n o m e n a , then it should be
able d e v e l o p m e n t be achieved?" All of a sudden advantageous to examine these insights and
the phrase Sustainable D e v e l o p m e n t (SD) has characterize the concept before it is misinter-
become pervasive. SD has become the watch- preted, distorted, and even coopted.
word for international aid agencies, the jargon of Buttel and Gillespie (1988) contend that such
d e v e l o p m e n t planners, the theme of conferences cooptation has already taken place. Agencies
and learned papers, and the slogan of develop- such as the World Bank (Conable, 1986), the
mental and environmental activists. It appears to Asian D e v e l o p m e n t Bank (Runnals, 1986) and
have gained the broad-based support that earlier the Organization for E c o n o m i c C o o p e r a t i o n and
d e v e l o p m e n t concepts such as " e c o d e v e l o p m e n t " D e v e l o p m e n t ( E n v i r o n m e n t C o m m i t t e e , 1985)
lacked, and is poised to become the developmen- have been quick to adopt the new rhetoric. The
tal paradigm of the 1990s. absence of a clear theoretical and analytical
But murmurs of disenchantment are also being framework, however, makes it difficult to deter-
heard. " W h a t is S D ? " is being asked increasingly mine whether the new policies will indeed foster
frequently without, however, clear answers an environmentally sound and socially meaning-
forthcoming. SD is in real danger of becoming a ful form of development. Further, the absence of
clich6 like appropriate technology - - a fashion- semantic and conceptual clarity is hampering
able phrase that everyone pays homage to but
nobody cares to define. Four years ago, Tolba
lamented that SD had become "an article of *I am grateful to Richard Norgaard for pointing me
faith, a shibboleth; often used, but little ex- towards significant references, and to him, Michael
plained" (Tolba, 1984a); the situation has not Maniates and Ken Conca for their extensive and
improved since. invaluable comments on earlier drafts. Comments by
John Harte, Arjun Makhijani, Paul Ekins, John Pezzey
There are those who believe that one should and an anonymous referee helped further refine the
not try to define SD too rigorously. To some arguments, and are gratefully acknowledged. Special
extent, the value of the phrase does lie in its thanks to ExPro (Exploratory Project on the Condi-
broad vagueness. It allows people with hitherto tions of Peace) for providing financial support.

607
608 WORLD DEVELOPMENT

a fruitful debate over what this form should 2. I N T E R P R E T I N G SUSTAINABLE


actually be. DEVELOPMENT
This paper is a critical review 2 of the literature
on sustainable development with the foregoing in The manner in which the phrase "sustainable
mind. The purpose is not to prove SD to be an development" is used and interpreted varies so
intellectual oxymoron, nor to provide the "ulti- much that while O'Riordan (1985) called SD a
mate" definition of SD. The idea here is to clarify "contradiction in terms," Redclift suggests that it
the semantics and to identify some critical may be just "another development truism" (Red-
weaknesses in concepts and reasoning - - weak- clift, 1987, p. 1). These interpretational prob-
nesses that will have to be addressed if SD is to lems, though ultimately conceptual, have some
become a meaningful paradigm of development. 3 semantic roots. Most people use the phrase
I begin by examining the various interpreta- "'sustainable development" interchangeably with
tions of "sustainable development," contrasting "ecologically sustainable or environmentally
the trivial or contradictory with the more mean- sound development" (Tolba, 1984a). This inter-
ingful ones. I then trace the evolution of the pretation is characterized by: (a) "sustainability'"
concept of SD, i.e., of its objectives and pre- being understood as "'ecological sustainability":
mises. I point out that the persuasive power of and (b) a conceptualization of SD as a process of
SD (and hence the political strength of the SD change that has (ecological) sustainability added
movement) stems from the underlying claim that to its list of objectives.
new insights into physical and social phenomena In contrast, sustainable development is some-
force one to concur with the operational conclu- times interpreted as "'sustained growth," "sus-
sions of the SD platform almost regardless of tained change," or simply "successful" develop-
one's fundamental ethical persuasions and priori- ment. Let us examine how these latter interpreta-
ties. I argue that while these new insights are tions originate and why they are less useful than
important, the argument is not inexorable, and the former one, and try to define the terms for
that the issues are more complex than is made the rest of this discussion. Figure l is a "'semantic
out to be. Hence (as is illustrated in Section 5), map" that might help in this exercise.
many of the policy prescriptions being suggested
in the name of SD stem from subjective (rather
than consensual) ideas about goals and means, (a) Contradictions and trivialities
and worse, are often inadequate and even
counterproductive. I conclude with some Taken literally, sustainable development
thoughts about future research in SD. would simply mean "development that can be

Phrase: SUSTA]NABLE DEVELOPMENT


I
Concepts:
I 1
Sustainabitity DeveLopment
I

ConnotatJons:
J
Literal
I
EcoLogicaL
I
Social
I
Process
I
Objectives

Meaning:
I
sustaining
I
sustaining
I
sustaining
I
growth and/or basic needs,etc.
anything ecoLogicaLbasis sociat basis ct?ange /
of human Life of human Life // //
j \ // /
N /" /
\ ? ~./ /
, I I \ / k /
Conditions: ecotogicat social /~J \ /
conditions conditions / \\ \ /
\ \ /
i j \ /
i I \\ /
"k/
I
SD=sustaining growth SD=achieving traditional objectives
Interpretations: + ecoLogicaL ( ~ social ?) sustainabitity
(contradictory or triviaL) (mainstream ~ meaningfuL)

Figure 1. The semantics of sustainable development.


SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 609

continued - - either indefinitely or for the implicit ly needs to know what constitutes social welfare,
time period of concern." But what is develop- in which case one might as well explicitly state
ment? Theorists and practitioners have both these constituents to be the objectives of de-
been grappling with the word and the concept for velopment) and at worst fallacious (because
at least the past four decades. (See Arndt, 1981, there are serious theoretical problems with
and Bartelmus, 1986, for semantic and concep- aggregating individual utility functions within
tual histories of economic development.) Some and especially across generations, and serious
equate development with GNP growth, others practical problems with devising indicators for
include any number of socially desirable pheno- any social welfare function that are not as
mena in their conceptualization. The point to be distorted as GNP). Again, it is not clear why the
noted is that development is a process of directed process of increasing welfare should continue
change. Definitions of development thus embody indefinitely, or whether it can do so.
both (a) the objectives of this process, and (b) Sometimes, the adjective "sustainable" is sim-
the means of achieving these objectives. ply used instead of "successful." For instance:
Unfortunately, a distinction between objec- "For economic development to be truly 'sustain-
tives and means is often not made in the able' requires 'tailoring the design and imple-
development rhetoric. This has led to "sustain- mentation of projects to the needs and capabili-
able development" frequently being interpreted ties of people who are supposed to benefit from
as simply a process of change that can be t h e m ' " (Barbier, 1987). Since "beneficiary-
continued forever (see Figure 1). Depending oriented design" (or "grassroots participation")
upon what characterization of the process is is a procedural imperative for any development
implicit, this interpretation is either impossible or program to be successful, such a statement tells
trivial. When development is taken to be synony- us nothing about the overall goals of that
mous with growth in material consumption - - developmental process. This usage is therefore
whicla it often is even today - - SD would be not very useful; moreover, it is confusing, be-
"sustaining the growth in material consumption" cause sustainability has already acquired other
(presumably indefinitely). But such an idea specific connotations.
contradicts the now general recognition that
"'ultimate limits [to usable resources] exist ''5 (b) Sustainability
(WCED, p. 45, emphasis added). At best, it
could be argued that growth in the per capita What then are these specific connotations of
consumption of certain basic goods is necessary "sustainability"? While a more conceptual dis-
in certain regions of the world in the short term. cussion is reserved for later on, some basic terms
To use "sustainable development" synonymously and usages need to be clarified here. The concept
with "sustain[ing] growth performance" (Idacha- of sustainability originated in the context of
ba, 1987) or to cite the high rates of growth in renewable resources such as forests or fisheries,
agricultural production in South Asia as an and has subsequently been adopted as a broad
example of SD (Hopper, 1987) is therefore a slogan by the environmental movement (L616,
misleading usage, or at best a short-term and 1988). Most proponents of sustainability there-
localized notion that goes against the long-term fore take it to mean "the existence of the
global perspective of SD. ecological conditions necessary to support human
One could finesse this contradiction by concep- life at a specified level of well-being through
tualizing development as simply a process of future generations," what I call ecological sus-
socio-economic change. But one cannot carry on tainability (see Figure 1).
a meaningful discussion unless one states what Since ecological sustainability emphasizes the
the objectives of such change are and why one constraints and opportunities that nature pre-
should worry about continuing the process of sents to human activities, ecologists and physical
change indefinitely. Neoclassical economists de- scientists frequently dominate its discussion. But
fine the objective of development as "increase in what they actually focus on are the ecological
social welfare." They then proceed to measure conditions for ecological sustainability - - the
social welfare in terms of economic output, and biophysical "laws" or patterns that determine
point out that "a growth in economic output does environmental responses to human activities and
not necessarily mean growth in physical through- humans' ability to use the environment. The
put of materials and energy" (Pezzey, 1989, p. major contribution of the environment-
14), thus "proving" that there is no contradiction development debate is, I believe, the realization
between sustainability and development. But this that in addition to or in conjunction with these
argument is at best circular (because to achieve ecological conditions, there are social conditions
continuous increases in social welfare one actual- that influence the ecological sustainability or
610 WORLD DEVELOPMENT

unsustainability of the people-nature interaction. 3. T I l E C O N C E P T O F S U S T A I N A B L E


To give a stylized example, one could say that DEVELOPMENT
soil erosion undermining the agricultural basis
for human society is a case of ecological (un)sus- What are the traditional objectives of develop-
tainability. It could be caused by farming on ment, and how have they been expanded or
marginal lands without adequate soil conserva- modified to include sustainability? If the pursuit
tion measures - - the ecological cause. But the of traditional d e v e l o p m e n t objectives has under-
p h e n o m e n o n of marginalization of peasants may mined ecological sustainability in the past, what
have social roots, which would then be the social new insights suggest that such undermining or
causes of ecological unsustainability. contradiction can be avoided now and in the
Sometimes, however, sustainability is used future? How does this help build a working
with fundamentally social connotations. For inst- consensus between different fundamental con-
ance, Barbier (1987) defines social sustainability cerns? In this section, I examine how the SD
as "the ability to maintain desired social values, debate has addressed these questions.
traditions, institutions, cultures, or other social
characteristics." This usage is not very c o m m o n ,
and its needs to be carefully distinguished from (a) Evolution of objectives
the more c o m m o n context in which social scien-
tists talk about sustainability, viz., the social The term sustainable development came into
aspects of ecological sustainability. A war des- prominence in 1980, when the International
troying human society would probably be an Union for the Conservation of Nature and
example of social (un)sustainability, and it in Natural Resources ( I U C N ) presented the World
turn may have social or ecological causes. (Note Conservation Strategy (WCS) with "the overall
that these categories are only conceptual devices aim of achieving sustainable development
for clarifying our thinking; real problems seldom through the conservation of living resources"
fall neatly into one category or another.) ( I U C N , 1980). Critics acknowledged that "'by
identifying Sustainable D e v e l o p m e n t as the basic
goal of society, the WCS was able to make a
profound contribution toward reconciling the
interests of the d e v e l o p m e n t community with
those of the environmental m o v e m e n t " (Khosla,
(c) Sustainable development = development +
1987). They pointed out, however, that the
sustainability?
strategy
In the mainstream interpretation of SD, eco- restricted itself to living resources, focussed pri-
logical sustainability is a desired attribute of any marily on the necessity of maintaining genetic
pattern of human activities that is the goal of the diversity, habits and ecological processes . . . . It was
developmental process. In other words, SD is also unable to deal adequately with sensitive or
understood as "'a form of societal change that, in controversial issues - - those relating to the interna-
addition to traditional developmental objectives, tional economic and political order, war and arma-
ment, population and urbanization (Khosla, 1987).
has the objective or constraint of ecological
sustainability." Given an ever-changing world, M o r e o v e r , the WCS was "'essentially supply-
the specific forms of and priorities among objec- sided, [in that] it assumed the level and structure
tives, and the requirements for achieving sus- of demand to be an independent and auton-
tainability, would evolve continuously. But sus- omous variable," and ignored the fact that "'if a
tainability - - as it is understood at each stage - - sustainable style of d e v e l o p m e n t is to be pur-
would remain a fundamental concern. Ecological sued, then both the level and particularly the
sustainability is, of course, not independent of structure of demand must be fundamentally
the other (traditional) objectives of develop- changed" (Sunkel, 1987). In short, the WCS had
ment. Tradeoffs may sometimes have to be made really addressed only the issue of ecological
between the extent to and rate at which ecologi- sustainability, rather than sustainable develop-
cal sustainability is achieved vis-~-vis other objec- ment.
tives. In other cases, however, ecological sus- Many have responded to such criticisms during
tainability and traditional d e v e l o p m e n t a l objec- the eight years since the WCS. The United
tives (such as satisfaction of basic needs) could be Nations Environment Program ( U N E P ) was at
mutually reinforcing. This interpretation of SD the forefront of the effort to articulate and
dominates the SD debate; I shall therefore focus popularize the concept. U N E P ' s concept of SD
on it in the rest of this paper. was said to encompass
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 611

(i) help for the very poor, because they are While the W C E D ' s statement of the funda-
left with no options but to destroy their mental objectives of SD is brief, the Commission
environment; is much more elaborate about (what are essen-
(ii) the idea of self-reliant development, tially) the operational objectives of SD. It states
within natural resource constraints; that "'the critical objectives which follow from the
(iii) the idea of cost-effective development concept of SD" are:
using nontraditional economic criteria; (1) reviving growth;
(iv) the great issues of health control [sic], (2) changing the quality of growth;
appropriate technology, food self- (3) meeting essential needs for jobs, food,
reliance, clean water and shelter for all; energy, water, and sanitation;
and (4) ensuring a sustainable level of population;
(v) the notion that people-centered initia- (5) conserving and enhancing the resource
tives are needed (Tolba, 1984a). base;
This statement epitomizes the mixing of goals (6) reorienting technology and managing
and means, or more precisely, of fundamental risk;
objectives and operational ones, that has bur- (7) merging environment and economics in
dened much of the SD literature. While provid- decision making; and
ing food, water, good health and shelter have (8) reorienting international economic rela-
traditionally been the fundamental objectives of tions (WCED, 1987, p. 49).
most development models (including UNEP's), Most organizations and agencies actively promot-
it is not clear whether self-reliance, cost- ing the concept of SD subscribe to some or all of
effectiveness, appropriateness of technology and these objectives with, however, the notable
people-centeredness are additional objectives or addition of a ninth operational goal, viz.,
the operational requirements for achieving the (9) making development more participatory/'
traditional ones. This formulation can therefore be said to
A similar proliferation of objectives was appa- represent the mainstream of SD thinking. This
rent at the IUCN-UNEP-World Wildlife Fund "mainstream" includes international environ-
sponsored conference on Conservation and De- mental agencies such as UNEP (e.g., Tolba,
velopment held in Ottawa in 1986. Summarizing 1987), IUCN and the World Wildlife Fund
the debate, the rapporteurs Jacobs, Gardner and (WWF), developmental agencies including the
Munro (1987) said that "Sustainable Develop- World Bank (e.g., Warford, 1986), the US
ment seeks . . . to respond to five broad Agency for International Development, the
requirements: (1) integration of conservation and Canadian and Swedish international develop-
development, (2) satisfaction of basic human ment agencies, research and dissemination orga-
needs, (3) achievement of equity and social nizations such as the World Resources Institute
justice, (4) provision of social self-determination (Repetto, 1985, 1986a), the International Insti-
and cultural diversity, and (5) maintenance of tute for Environment and Development, the
ecological integrity." The all-encompassing na- Worldwatch Institute (1984-88), and activist
ture of the first requirement, and the repetitions organizations and groups such as the Global
and redundancies between some of the others Tomorrow Coalition (GTC, 1988).
were acknowledged by Jacobs, Gardner and The logical connection between the brief
Munro, but they did not suggest a better frame- definition of fundamental SD objectives and the
work. list of operational ones is not completely obvious
In contrast to the aforementioned, the current- - -mainly because many of the operational goals
ly popular definition of SD - - the one adopted by are not independent of the others. Nevertheless,
the World Commission on Environment and it is possible to infer that "meeting the needs of
Development (WCED) - - is quite brief: the present generation" is operationally equiva-
lent to WCED's first and third operational goals
Sustainable development is development that meets (reviving growth and meeting basic needs), while
the needs of the present without compromising the the need to maintain the ecological basis for the
ability of future generations to meet their own satisfaction of these objectives in perpetuity can
needs (WCED, 1987; p. 43). be operationalized through the remaining goals
(especially 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7).
The constraint of "not compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their needs" is
(presumably) considered by the Commission to (b) The strength of the concept
be equivalent to the requirement of some level of
ecological and social sustainability. 5 The strength of the concept of SD stems from
612 WORLD DEVELOPMENT

the choice of an apparently simple definition of and e n v i r o n m e n t a l p h e n o m e n a . T h e r e is now a


fundamental objectives -- meeting current needs growing c o n s e n s u s that "'many e n v i r o n m e n t a l
a n d sustainability r e q u i r e m e n t s - - from which p r o b l e m s in d e v e l o p i n g countries originate from
c a n be derived a r a n g e of o p e r a t i o n a l objectives the lack o f development, that is from the struggle
t h a t cut across most previous intellectual a n d to o v e r c o m e e x t r e m e conditions of p o v e r t y "
p o l i t i c a l b o u n d a r i e s . R e p e t t o h a s t r i e d to e x p r e s s ( B a r t e l m u s , 1986, p. 18: e m p h a s i s a d d e d ) , that
this i d e a o f S D a s a p o w e r f u l t o o l f o r c o n s e n s u s : e n v i r o n m e n t a l d e g r a d a t i o n i m p o v e r i s h e s those
d e p e n d e n t directly on the natural e n v i r o n m e n t
[SD has] three bases . . . scientific realities,
for survival, a n d conversely, that d e v e l o p m e n t
consensus on ethical principles, and considerations
must be e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y s o u n d if it is to be
of long-term self-interest. There is a broad consen-
sus that pursuing policies that imperil the welfare p e r m a n e n t ( D a m p i e r , 1982). T h u s , "'environ-
of future generations . . . is unfair. Most would m e n t a l quality a n d e c o n o m i c d e v e l o p m e n t are
agrcc that . . . consignling I a large share of the i n t e r d e p e n d e n t and in the long t e r m , mutually
world's population to depriwttion and poverty is reinforcing" (Tolba, 1984b), and the q u e s t i o n is
also unfair. Pragmatic self-interest reinforces that no longer w h e t h e r they contradict each o t h e r but
bclief. Povcrty . . . underlies the deterioration of how to achieve this ( e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y ) sustain-
resources a n d / h e population growth in much of the able ( f o r m of) d e v e l o p m e n t .
world and aflk~cts everyone (Repetto, 1986a, p. 17).
M o r e precisely, the p e r c e p t i o n in m a i n s t r e a m
"'Pragmatic self i n t e r e s t , " h o w e v e r , is as m u c h an SD t h i n k i n g of the e n v i r o n m e n t - s o c i e t y link
ethical value j u d g m e n t as feelings of unfairness is based u p o n the following premises:
o v e r p o v e r t y or o v e r i n t e r g e n e r a t i o n a l inequity,
while ( p r e s u m a b l y ) scientific reality is not. (i) Environmentaldegradamm:
T h e r e f o r e , the a b o v e could be r e p h r a s e d as:
- - E n v i r o n m e n t a l d e g r a d a t i o n is already
The current state of scicntific knowlcdge (parti- affecting millions in the T h i r d World, and is
cularly insights obtaincd in the last fcw decades) likely to severely reduce h u m a n well-being all
aboul natural and social phenomcna and their across the globc within the next few gcnera-
interactions leads incxorahly to the conclusion that lions.
anyone driven by either long-term self interest, or E n v i r o n m e n t a l d e g r a d a t i o n is very often
concern for poverty, or conccrn for i n t c r g e n e r a - caused by poverty, hccausc the p o o r have no
tional equity should hc willing to support thc
option but to exploit resources for s h o r t - t e r m
operational ohiectivcs of SD.
survival.
A s s u m i n g that c o n c e r n for i n t e r g c n e r a t i o n a l T h e interlinked nature of most e n v i r o n -
equity coincides with b r o a d c n v i r o m n e n t a l con- mental p r o b l e m s is such that e n v i r o n n l e n t a l
cerns, and adding c o n c e r n for local participation d e g r a d a t i o n ultimatel'; affects e v c r v b o d v ,
to the list, this f o r m u l a t i o n of SD has, in theory, a l t h o u g h p o o r e r individuals/nations may suf-
tire potential for building a very b r o a d and |er illOrc a l l d SOOllCr [h:ln r i c h e r o n e s .
powerful consensus.
(ii) l)aditiomd dcw,lolmWnt ot~jeclit'es:
T h c s c :ire: providing basic n e e d s and
increasing the productivity of all resources
(c) 77wpremises oI'SD
( h u m a n , natural and e c o n o m i c ) in dcxcloping
countries, and m a i n t a i n i n g the s t a n d a r d ot
So what are thesc insiahts that a p p c a r to bc
living m the d c v c l o p c d countries.
pushing us t o w a r d such an o p e r a t i o n a l consen-
T h e s e objectives do not ncccssarily con-
sus? Most people now admit that m a n y h u m a n
flict with the objectivc of ecological sustain
activities are c u r r e n t l y reducing the long-term
ability, in fact, achieving sustainable p a t t c r n s
ability of the natural e n v i r o n m e n t to provide
of resource use is necessary lk~r achieving
goods and services, as well as adversely affecting
these objectives p e r m a n c n t l y .
c u r r e n t h u m a n h e a l t h and well-being. Many
It can be s h o w n that, even for individual
would also accept that grinding p o v e r t y is dewts-
actors, e n v i r o n m e n t a l l y s o u n d m e t h o d s arc
tating the lives of millions of individuals all over
"profitablc'" in the long run, and often in the
the world. But n e i t h e r of these insights has b e e n
short run too.
able to g e n e r a t e a c o n s e n s u s b e t w e e n those
c o n c e r n e d a b o u t e n v i r o n m e n t a l issues and those
focusing upon econonric a n d d e v e l o p m e n t a l oncs (iii) t~rocess.
(or even within each of these groups). --The process of d e v e l o p m e n t must bc
T h e insights that have p u s h e d us toward this participatory to succeed (even in the short
c o n s e n s u s pertain to the f e e d b a c k b e t w e e n social FU I1 ).
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 613

Given these premises, the need for a process of In fact, however, even a cursory examination
development that achieves the traditional objec- of the vast amount of research that has been done
tives, results in ecologically sustainable patterns on the links between social and environmental
of resource use, and is implemented in a partici- phenomena suggests that both poverty and en-
patory manner is obvious. vironmental degradation have deep and complex
Most of the SD literature is devoted to showing causes. While substantive disagreements still
that this process is also feasible and can be made exist regarding the primacy of these causes and
attractive to the actors involved. SD has become the feasibility and efficacy of different remedies,
a bundle of neat fixes: technological changes that the diagram in Figure 3 is probably a reasonable
make industrial production processes less pollut- approximation of the general consensus on the
ing and less resource intensive and yet more nature of the causes and their links. 7
productive and profitable, economic policy To say that mainstream SD thinking has
changes that incorporate environmental con- completely ignored these factors would be unfair.
siderations and yet achieve greater economic But it would be fair to say that it has focused on
growth, procedural changes that use local non- an eclectically chosen few. In particular, inade-
governmental organizations (NGOs) so as to quate technical know-how and managerial capa-
ensure grassroots participation, agriculture that bilities, common property resource management,
is less harmful, less resource intensive and yet and pricing and subsidy policies (e.g., Repetto,
more productive, and so on. In short, SD is a 1986b; World Bank, 1987a) have been the major
"metafix" that will unite everybody from the themes addressed, and the solutions suggested
profit-minded industrialist and risk-minimizing have been essentially techno-economic ones.
subsistence farmer to the equity-seeking social This approach is reflected in the "principles"
worker, the pollution-concerned or wildlife- suggested for policy making, such as "'designing
loving First Worlder, the growth-maximizing for efficiency, proper resource pricing, managing
policy maker, the goal-oriented bureaucrat, and common resources, attending to basics, and
therefore, the vote-counting politician. building management capability" (Repetto,
1986a, pp. 23-40). Deeper socio-political
changes (such as land reform) or changes in
4. WEAKNESSES cultural values (such as overconsumption in the
North) are either ignored or paid lip-service.
The major impact of the SD movement is the This is not to say that problems of the global
rejection of the notion that environmental con- commons or of the lack of techno-managerial
servation necessarily constrains development or expertise are unimportant. But the intellectual
that development necessarily means environmen- discourse needs to begin with an acknowledge-
tal pollution - - certainly not an insignificant gain. ment that the big picture in Figure 3 (or
Where the SD movement has faltered is in its something similar) essentially holds in all cases,
inability to develop a set of concepts, criteria and and then proceed to developing analytical
policies that are coherent or consistent - - both methods to help estimate the relative importance
externally (with physical and social reality) and of each causal factor in specific cases and identify
internally (with each other). The mainstream means of and scope for change.
formulation of SD suffers from significant weak-
nesses in:
(a) its characterization of the problems of
poverty and environmental degradation;
(b) its conceptualization of the objectives of
development, sustainability and participation;
and
(c) the strategy it has adopted in the face of
incomplete knowledge and uncertainty.

(a) Poverty and environmental degradation: An


incomplete characterization

The fundamental premise of mainstream SD


thinking is the two-way link between poverty and
environmental degradation, shown schematically Figure 2. The mainstream perception of the link between
in Figure 2. poverty and environmental degradation.
614 WORLD DEVELOPMENT

growth is not correlated with environmental


sustainability, there is no reason to have econo-
mic growth as an operational objective of SD. s
The second argument in favor of economic
growth is more positive. The basic premise of SD
is that poverty is largely responsible for environ-
mental degradation. Therefore~ removal of pov-
erty (i.e., development) is necessary for environ-
mental sustainability. This, it is argued, implies
that economic growth is absolutely necessary for
SD. The only thing that needs to be done is to
"'change the quality of [this] growth" (WCED,
Figure 3. A more realistic representation ~O'thepoverty- 1987, pp. 52-54) to ensure that it does not lead to
environmental degradation problem. environmental destruction. In drawing such an
inference, however, there is the implicit belief
that economic growth is necessary (if not suffi-
(b) Conceptual weaknesses cient) for the removal of poverty. But was it not
the fact that economic growth per se could not
Removal of poverty (the traditional develop- ensure the removal of poverty that led to the
mental objective), sustainability and participa- adoption of the basic needs approach in the
tion are really the three fundamental objectives 197(1s?
of the SD paradigm. Unfortunately, the manner Thus, if economic growth by itself leads to
in which these objectives are conceptualized and neither environmental sustainability nor remowd
operationalized leaves much to be desired. On of poverty, it is clearly a "non-objective'" for SD.
the one hand, economic growth is being adopted The converse is a possibility worth exploring,
as a major operational objective that is consistent viz., whether successful implementation of poli-
with both removal of poverty and sustainability. cies for poverty removal, long-term employment
On the other hand, the concepts of sustainability generation, environnlental restoration and rural
and participation are poorly articulated, making development will lead to growth in GNP, and,
it difficult to determine whether a particular de- more inlportant, to increases in investment,
velopment project actually promotes a particular employment and income generation. This seems
form of sustainability, or what kind of participa- more than likely in developing countries, but not
tion will lead to what kind of social (anti so certain in developed oncs. In any case.
consequently, enviromnental) outcome. economic growth may bc the fallout of SD, but
not its primc mover.
(i) The role of economic growth
By the mid-197()s, it had seemed that the (ii) Sustaimd~ilitv
economic growth and trickle-down theory of The World (;onservation Strategy was prob-
development had been firmly rejected, and the ably tile first attempt to carry the concept of
"'basic needs approach" (Streeten. 1979) had sustainabilitv beyond simple renewable resource
taken root in development circles. Yet economic svstems. It suggestcd three ecological principles
growth continues to feature in today's debate on for ecological sustainabilitv (sec the nomencla-
SD. In fact, "reviving [economic I growth" heads ture developed abovc}, ~iz., "'nlaintenancc ot
WCED's list of operational objectives quoted essential ccological processes and life-support
earlier. Two arguments are implicit in this adop- systems, thc preservation of genetic diversity,
tion of economic growth as an operational and the sustainable utilization of species and re-
objective. The first, a somewhat defcnsivc one, is sources' (1U('N, 1980). This definition, though a
that there is no fundamental contradiction be- useflfl starting point, is clearly recursivc as it
tween economic growth and sustainability, be- hwokes "'sustainability'" in resource use without
cause growth m economic activity may occur defining it. Many subsequent attempts to discuss
simultaneously with either an improvement or a the notion arc disturbingly muddled (e.g., Munn,
deterioration in environmental quality. Thus, 1988). There is a very real danger of the term
"'governments concerned with long-term sus- becoming a meaningless clichd, unless a con-
tainability need not seek to limit growth in certed effort is made to add precision and content
economic output so long as they stabilize aggre- to the disct.ssion. While a detailed analysis of
gate natural resource consumption" (Goodland sustainabilitv is given elsewhere (Lele, 1989), the
and Ledec, 1987). But one could turn this following points may bc made here,
argument around and suggest that, if economic Any discussion of sustainability must first
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 615

answer the questions "What is to be sustained? Social sustainability is a more nebulous con-
For whom? How long?" The value of the concept cept than ecological sustainability. Brown et al.
(like that of SD), however, lies in its ability to (1987), in a somewhat techno-economic vein,
generate an operational consensus between state that sustainability implies "the existence
groups with fundamentally different answers to and operation of an infrastructure (transporta-
these questions, i.e., those concerned either tion and communication), services (health, edu-
about the survival of future human generations, cation, and culture), and government (agree-
or about the survival of wildlife, or human ments, laws, and enforcement)." Tisdell (1988)
health, or the satisfaction of immediate subsist- talks about "'the sustainability of political and
ence needs (food, fuel, fodder) with a low degree social structures" and Norgaard (1988) argues for
of risk. It is therefore vital to identify those cultural sustainability, which includes value and
aspects of sustainability that do actually cater to belief systems. Detailed analyses of the concept,
such diverse interests, and those that involve however, seem to be nonexistent.9 Perhaps
tradeoffs. achieving desired social situations is itself so
Differentiating between ecological and social difficult that discussing their maintainability is
sustainability could be a first step toward clari- not very useful; perhaps goals are even more
fying some of the discussion. Further, in the case dynamic in a social context than in an ecological
of ecological sustainability, a distinction needs to one, so that maintainability is not such an
be made between renewable resources, nonre- important attribute of social institutions/
newable resources, and environmental processes structures. There is, however, no contradiction
that are crucial to human life, as well as to life at between the social and ecological sustainability;
large. The few researchers who have begun to rather, they can complement and inform each
explore the idea of ecological sustainability other.
emphasize its multidimensional and complex
nature (e.g., Charoenwatana and Rambo, 1988). (iii) Participation
In the context of sustainable use of renewable A notable feature of "ecodevelopment'" - -
resources, it is necessary to go beyond the SD's predecessor-- as well as some of the earlier
conventional simplistic notion of "harvesting the SD literature was the emphasis placed on equity
annual increment," and take into consideration and social justice. For instance, in the IUCN-
the dynamic behavior of the resource, stochastic sponsored conference in Ottawa in 1986,
properties of and uncertainties about environ- "advancing equity and social justice [was per-
mental conditions (e.g., climatic variations), the ceived to be] so important" that the phrase used
interactions between resources and activities was "'sustainable and equitable development"
(e.g., between forests, soils and agriculture), and (Jacobs, Gardner and Munro, 1987). Subse-
between different uses or features of the "'same" quently, however, the mainstream appears to
resource (e.g., tree foliage and stemwood). have quietly dropped these terms (suggesting at
In the rush to derive ecological principles of least a deemphasizing of these objectives), and
(ecological) sustainability, we cannot afford to has instead focused on "'local participation."
lose sight of the social conditions that determine There are, however, three problems with this
which of these principles are socially acceptable, shift. First, by using the terms equity, participa-
and to what extent. Sociologists, eco-Marxists tion and decentralization interchangeably, it is
and political ecologists are pointing out the being suggested that participation and decentrali-
crucial role of socioeconomic structures and zation are equivalent, and that they can somehow
institutions in the pattern and extent of environ- substitute for equity and social justice. This
mental degradation globally (also see discussion suggestion is at best a naive one. While all ot
and notes in Section 4a). Neoclassical econom- these concepts are quite complex, it seems clear
ists, whose theories have perhaps had the that some form of participation is necessary but
greatest influence in development policy making not sufficient for achieving equity and social
in the past and who therefore bear the responsi- justice.
bility for its social and environmental failures, Second, the manner in which participation is
however, have been very slow in modifying their being operationalized shows up the narrow-
theories and prescriptions. The SD movement minded, quick-fix and deceptive approach
will have to formulate a clear agenda for research adopted by the mainstream promoters of SD.
in what is being called "'ecological economics" Cohen and Uphoff (1980) distinguished four
(Ekins, 1986; Goodland and Ledec, 1987; types of participation - - in decision making,
Costanza, 1989) and press for its adoption by the implementation, benefit distribution and evalua-
mainstream of economics in order to ensure the tion. Most of the SD literature does not make
possibility of real changes in policy making. these distinctions at all. Mainstream SD litera-
616 WORLD DEVELOPMENT

ture blithely assumes and insists that "'involve- need to ensure a truly equitable basis for
ment of local NGOs'" in project implementation exchange by restructuring the international
will ensure project success (Maniates, 1990: he monetary system is completely ignored. Makhi-
dubs this the +'NGOization'" of SD). jani and Browne (1986) have described how the
Third, there is an assumption that participation First World has in the past manipulated the
or at least equity and social justice will necessari- system of exchange rates in order to maintain
ly reinforce ecological sustainability. Attempts to favorable terms of trade for itself. The Interna-
test such assumptions rigorously have been rare. tional Monetary Fund (IMF) and the SD-
But preliminary results seem to suggest that promoting World Bank, however, continue to
equity in resource access may not lead to sustain- emphasize structural readjustment policies for
able resource use unless new institutions for debt-ridden Third World countries that include
resource m a n a g e m e n t are carefully built and downward adjustment of exchange rates: in
nurtured. For instance, Jodha (1987) describes effect, maintaining the terms of trade of the
how land reform in Rajasthan (India) led to the colonial era.
neglect of village pastures that were well- Second, there seems to be a broad conscnstLS
maintained under the earlier feudal structure. cutting across ahnost all political and intellectual
Similarly, communal irrigation tanks m Tamil boundaries that free trade (interpreted as trade
Nadu (India) fell into disrepair with tile reduc- without any import or export barriers) is crucial
tion in the feudal powers of the village landlords to promoting SD. The Brandt Commission ( 1980
(yon O p p e n and Subba Rao, 1980). This should and 1983) argued that +'the solution [to the dual
not be misconstrued as an argument against the problems facing the North and the South] is to
need for equity, but rather as a word of caution make the South richer through increased trade."
against the tendency to believe that social equity The W C E D report cites protectionism as a major
automatically ensures environmental sustainabil- impediment to sustainable development
ity (or vice-versa). ( W C E D , 1987, p. 83), and urges the removal ot
all such barriers. But this prescription is funda-
tnentally flawed on the counts of d e v e l o p m e n t as
5. P O L I C Y P R E S C R I P T I O N S - - well as sustainability.
INCONSISTENCIES AND INADEQUACIES in a succinct statement of the argument on the
first count, Redclifl (1987, p. 57) points out that
Given this confusion in terms, perceptions, although the neoclassical economics case is that
and concepts, the policies being suggested by the +'gains from [free] trade" outweigh the losses, (i)
mainstream of SD thinking cannot and do not neoclassical theory itself acknowledges that the
conh)rm to the basic idea of ecologically sound gains from trade may be very unevenly distri-
and socially equitable development. They are buted between countries, (ii) in practice, there
often seriously flawed, and reflect personal, may be losers as well as gainers, and (iii) while
organizational and political preferences. I use freer trade will presumably stimulate economic
examples from three SD issues - - international growth, the assertion that economic growth is
trade, agriculture, and tropical forests to (socially) beneficial is questionable, to say the
illustrate this argument. least.
Sinmltancously, the contradictions between
the neoclassical theory of international trade and
(a) International trade and economic relations ecological sustainability are being pointed out.
Norgaard has described the impact of the modern
Trade, multinational corporations, commercial globally integrated e c o n o m y on biodiversity:
lending and aid are the four dominant channels
through which international economic relations [Comparative advantage, the efficiency of speciali-
zation, and the gains through cxchange have]
manifest themselves today. That the manner in
affected [biological] diversity in two ways. First . . . .
which these activities are currently pursued development through capturing the gains of ex-
contradicts ecological sustainability and social change has encouraged specialization and a reduc-
well-being is being increasingly pointed out tion in crop and supporting species . . . [Second,]
(Redclift, 1987: Rainforest Action Network, variation in aggregate economic welfare is reduced
1987). This is even being acknowledged in some through increased varialions in the activities ol
cases by the parties involved (World Bank, individual actors. This increased variation imposes
1987b). stress on biological species that leads to extinction
Yet, the SD debate and policy prescriptions (Norgaard, 1987).
regarding international trade continue to be Further, he states, neoclassical trade theory
fundamentally flawed in two ways. First, the asstuncs "+that factors of production are mobile
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 617

(that labor, capital and land can shift between appear to be largely limited to designing and
lines of production, that labor can move to new validating conventional crop production models,
locations) . . . . But environmental services which with simple environmental feedbacks added
give land its value cannot freely shift from one almost as an afterthought.
product to another" (Norgaard, 1987; emphasis Not surprisingly, agricultural policy statements
added). by the SD mainstream often give contradictory
Examining the controversy over the Free messages. For instance, the WCED report ack-
Trade Agreement between the United States and nowledges that the increases in agricultural
Canada, McRobert (1988) makes the additional production in the Green Revolution have occur-
point that economics research on trade policy has red through a nine-fold increase in fertilizer
studiously ignored the massive hidden environ- consumption, with reducing marginal gains, and
mental externalities (in the form of pollution and at the cost of significant soil salinization and
climate change) of the transportation implicit in pollution. Nevertheless, it concludes that "many
international trade. countries should increase yields by greater use of
chemical fertilizers and pesticides, [although]
countries can also improve yields by helping
(b) Sustainable agriculture: What? How? farmers use organic nutrients more efficiently"
(WCED, 1987, p. 135).
Agriculture is one of the foundations of human
society and a major activity at the human-
environment interface. Attempts to operational- (c) Tropical Forests
ize ecological sustainability have therefore
focused significantly on agriculture. Unfortun- Tropical deforestation has been an item on the
ately, while the literature on sustainable agricul- agenda of First World environmentalists for a
ture or SD in agriculture is proliferating, it is long time (e.g., Myers, 1984). Rooted initially
marked by the same confusion that afflicts the almost wholly in concern about wildlife and
larger debate on sustainability. This confusion is biological diversity, the movement to save the
obvious from the manner in which the terms world's tropical forests broadened as the under-
"sustainable agriculture," ~'low-input agricul- standing of the phenomenon became more
ture" and "organic farming" are being used inter- sophisticated in terms of the social context of
changeably when they actually differ significantly forest use and the political economy of deforesta-
(Buttel and Gillespie, Jr., 1988). "Agroecology" tion.
is being proposed as the foundation for sustain- But when the World Resources Institute, the
able agriculture (Dover and Talbot, 1987), but it World Bank and the UNDP proposed their
lacks a firm, consensual theoretical and practical action plan for tropical forests (WRI, 1985), this
framework. Moreover, the ability of a pattern of plan - - and a similar one outlined by the FAO
agriculture to simultaneously provide fair returns (1985) - - were both heavily criticized on exactly
to the farmer and laborer, and to satisfy the the same grounds of analytical incompleteness
needs of the nonagricultural population in an discussed earlier in Section 4. It suffices to quote
ecologically sound manner depends not only on Hildyard (1987):
ecological interactions but also on complex social
conditions - - conditions that are even less well The WRI report is deeply flawed. . . . [First], it is
understood today. bascd on the premise that poverty, over-population
Struggling with these inadequacies, the SD and ignorance are the prime cause of forest destruc-
tion. But making scapegoats of the poor and
movement has been slow in coming up with a
dispossessed not only obscures the reasons for their
clear definition of and agenda for sustainable poverty but detracts from the real causes for
agriculture. This has not only hampered efforts deforestation, viz., the massive commercial de-
to redirect international agencies' policies (e.g., velopment schemes being promoted in the Third
Committee on Agricultural Sustainability in De- World. [Second,] blaming the poor for deforesta-
veloping Countries, 1987) but, more important, tion also overlooks the fact that millions of peasant
it has also allowed the conventional Green colonists have been actively encouraged to invade
Revolution experts to sell their old wine in the [forests] under government-sponsored colonization
new bottle of "sustainable agriculture." At the schemes. [Third,] blaming poverty also ignores the
fact that best protected forests of the world are
World Bank workshops on SD in agriculture inhabited by those very tribal peoples who, by the
(Davis and Schirmer, 1987) most "experts" standards of industrialized man, are among the
interpreted sustainability in agriculture as simply world's poorest. [Fourth,] blaming the poor also
maintaining growth in agricultural production! serves to rationalise and hence legitimize the view
Other research efforts (as in Parikh, 1987) that current development policies can (and should)
618, WORLD DEVELOPMENT

continue unabated. Indeed, the WRI plan goes grassroots. In fact, such clarification and articula-
further [and] interprets the problem in such a way as tion is necessary if SD is to avoid either being
to justify socially and ecologically destructive dismissed as another d e v e l o p m e n t fad or being
[though politically and economically expedient]
coopted by forces opposed to changes in the
schemes.
status quo. More specifically, proponents and
Ross and D o n o v a n (1986) present a similar, analysts of SD need to:
though milder, critique. Clearly, some serious (a) clearly reject the attempts (and tempta-
introspection and rethinking is needed in the SD tion) to focus on economic growth as at
community on this issue. means to poverty removal and/or en-
vironmental sustainability;
(b) recognize the internal inconsistencies and
6. C O N C L U D I N G R E M A R K S : D I L E M M A S inadequacies in the theory and practice
AND AGENDAS of neoclassical economics, particularly as
it rchttes to cnvironmental and distribu-
The proponents of SD are faced with a tional issues: in economic analyses, m o v c
dilemma that affects any program of political away from arcane mathematical models
action and social change: the dilemma between toward exploring empirical questions
the urge to take strong stands on fundamental such as limits to the substitution of
concerns and the need to gain wide political capital for resources, impacts of different
acceptance and support. Learning from the sustainability policies on different econo-
experience of e c o d e v e l o p m e n t , which tended mic systems, etc.:
toward the former, SD is being packaged as the (c) accept the existencc of structural, tech-
inevitable o u t c o m e of objective scientific analy- nological and cultural causes of both
sis, virtually an historical necessity, that does not poverty and environmental degradation:
contradict the deep-rooted normative notion of develop methodologies for estimating the
d e v e l o p m e n t as economic growth. In other relative importance of and interactions
words, SD is an attempt to have one's cake and between these causes in specific situa-
eat it too. tions: and explore political, institutional
It may be argued that this is indeed possible, and educational solutions to them:
that the things that are wrong and need to be (d) understand the multiple dimensions of
changed are quite obvious, and there are many sustamability, and attempt to develop
ways of fixing them without significantly conflict- measures, criteria and principles for
ing with either age-old power structures or the them; and
modern drive for a higher material standard of (c) explore what patterns and levels of re-
living. T h e r e f o r e , it is high time that environ- source demand and use would be com-
mentalists and d e v e l o p m e n t activists put aside patible with different forms or levels of
their differences and joined hands under the ecological and social sustainability, and
banner of sustainable development to tackle the with different notions of equity and social
myriad of problems facing us today. If, by using justice.
the politically correct jargon of economic growth There arc, fortunately, some signs that a debate
and d e v e l o p m e n t and by packaging SD in the on these lines has now begun (see, e.g., the
manner mentioned above, it were possible to December 1988 issue of kiuures; also SGN, 1988,
achieve even 50% success in implementing this and Daly, 1991).
bundle of "conceptually imprecise" policies, the In a sense, if SD is to be really "sustained" as a
net reduction achieved in environmental degra- d e v e l o p m e n t paradigm, two apparently diver-
dation and poverty would be unprecedented. gent efforts are called for: making SD more
I believe, however, that (analogous to the precise in its conceptual underpinnings, while
arguments in SD) in the long run there is no allowing more flexibility and diversity of
contradiction between better articulation of the approaches in developing strategies that might
terms, concepts, analytical methods and policy- lead to a society living in harmony with the
making principles, and gaining political strength environment and with itself.
and broad social acceptance especially at the

NOTES

1. For instance, the International Institute [k)r Ap- entitled "'Sustainable Development of the Biosphere'
plied Systems Analysis published a collection of papers (Clark and Munn, 1986). But nowhere ill this large
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 619

volume was there any attempt to define development, 6. It is tempting to conclude that this nine-point
sustainability, or sustainable development. formulation of SD is identical with the concept of
"ecodevelopment" - - the original term coined by
2. This is not the first review of the SD literature. Maurice Strong of U N E P for environmentally sound
Since the middle of 1987, reviews have appeared in at development (see Sachs, 1977 and Riddell, 1981).
least three journal articles (Brown et al., 1987; Barbier, Certainly the differences are less obvious than the
1987; Tisdell, 1988) and one book (Redclift, 1 9 8 7 ) - in similarities. Nevertheless, some changes are significant
itself a striking indication of the proliferation of the SD - - such as the dropping of the emphasis on "local self-
literature. But while these authors - - Redclift and reliance" and the renewed emphasis on economic
Barbier in particular - - have contributed to the growth.
discussion on SD, a comprehensive review of the SD
literature that critically examines the semantic and 7. The diagram is necessarily unsatisfactory and
conceptual issues is still lacking. incomplete, since the problem is basically not amenable
to neat representation. Its only purpose is to illustrate
the importance of access to or control over resources
3. This indicates the necessarily subjective starting
and technological and cultural factors in influencing (if
point of this analysis, viz., that I find at least some of
not determining) both poverty and environmental
the arguments being made by the SD movement
degradation. Redclift (1987), Blaikie (1985), Blaikie
(outlined later) more plausible than the arguments of
and Brookfield (1987), and Little and Horowitz (1987)
those who would have us believe that no major
contain elaborations of this theme. Grossman (1984)
environmental and social problems confront us, and/or
and Hecht (1985) are examples of region-specific
if they do, that no major shifts in our thinking and in
analyses. Eckholm (1976) typifies simpler analyses that
our individual and collective behavior and policy
focus on poverty and population growth.
making will be called for to navigate through these
problems.
8. Economists have responded by suggesting that
currently used indicators of economic growth (GNP in
4. More precisely, there are ultimate limits to the particular) could be modified so as to somehow "build
stocks of material resources, the flows of energy in" this correlation (e.g., Peskin, 1981). To what extent
resources, and (in the event of these being circum- this is possible and whether it will serve more than a
vented by a major breakthrough in fission/fusion marginal purpose are, however, open questions (Nor-
technologies) to the environment's ability to absorb gaard, 1989).
waste energy and other stresses. The limits-to-growth
debate, while not conclusive as to specifics, appears to 9. Three other "'social" usages of sustainability need
have effectively shifted the burden of proof about the to be clarified. Sustainable economy (Daly, 1980) and
absence of such fundamental limits onto the diehard sustainable society (Brown, 1981) are two of these. The
"technological optimists" who deny the existence of focus there, however, is on the patterns and levels of
such limits. resource use that might be ecologically sustainable
while providing the goods and services necessary to
5. Of course, "meeting the needs" is a rather maintain human well-being, and the social reorganiza-
ambiguous phrase that may mean anything in practice. tion that might be required to make this possible. The
Substituting this phrase with "optimizing economic and third usage is Chambers' definition of "sustainable
other societal benefits" (Goodland and Ledec, 1987) or livelihoods" as "a level of wealth and of stocks and
"managing all assets, natural resources and human flows of food and cash which provide for physical and
resources, as well as financial and physical assets for social well-being and security against becoming poorer"
increasing long-term wealth and well-being (Repetto, (Chambers, 1986). This can be thought of as a
1986a, p. 15) does not define the objectives of sophisticated version of "'basic needs", in that security
development more precisely, although the importance or risk-minimization is added to the list of needs. It is
attached to economic benefits or wealth is rather therefore relevant to any paradigm of development,
obvious. rather than to SD in particular.

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