Sustinable Developmen

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tSustainable Development Sust. Dev. 10, 187–196 (2002) Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/sd.199

ENVIRONMENT, ECONOMY AND SOCIETY: FITTING THEM TOGETHER INTO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Bob Giddings, Bill Hopwood* and Geoff O’Brien Sustainable Cities Research Institute, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK Sustainable development is a contested concept, with theories shaped by people’s and organizations’ different worldviews, which in turn influence how issues are formulated and actions proposed. It is usually presented as the intersection between environment, society and economy, which are conceived of as separate although connected entities. We would argue that these are not unified entities: rather they are fractured and multi-layered and can be considered at different spatial levels. The economy is often given priority in policies and the environment is viewed as apart from humans. They are interconnected, with the economy dependent on society and the environment while human existence and society are dependent on, and within the environment. The separation of environment, society and economy often leads to a narrow techno-scientific approach, while issues to do with society that are most likely to challenge the present socio-economic structure are often marginalized, in particular the * Correspondence to: B. Hopwood, Sustainable Cities Research Institute, 6 North Street East, Newcastle-upon-Tyre, NE6 2Jf, UK. E-mail: william.hopwood@unn.ac.uk Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

sustainability of communities and the maintenance of cultural diversity. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment. Received 1 February 2001 Revised 18 April 2001 Accepted 24 April 2001

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: A CONTESTED CONCEPT
ustainable development is a contested concept with a wide range of meanings. It is embraced by big business, governments, social reformers and environmental activists, all of which put their own interpretation on what sustainable development means. After initial reluctance, 95% of large companies in Europe and the USA now believe that sustainable development is important (Little, undated). The World Economic Forum, in their modest words the ‘world’s leadership team’, discusses sustainability, although giving it the WEF spin (WEF Forum, 2001). Over 150 of the world’s major companies in mining, oil and gas, autos, chemicals, logging, banking and finance, cement, electricity generation, drugs and bio-technology are members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, 2001). New Labour

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B. GIDDINGS, B. HOPWOOD AND G. O’BRIEN (DETR, 1999), the Conservatives (HMSO, 1994) and the Liberal Democrats (2000) all support sustainable development. Many environmentalists including Friends of the Earth (2001) and Greenpeace (2001) are committed to sustainable development, while being critical of companies who are members of the WBCSD. Organizations and individuals with concerns about social issues while supporting sustainable development disagree with the outlook of businesses and international economic organizations. The Real World Coalition argues that the ‘the path of globalisation. . . will not succeed in eliminating poverty; it will increase it’ (Jacobs, 1996, p. 51). Companies who are members of WBCSD have been in conflict with trade unions and human rights activists (Rowell, 1996). The classic definition of sustainable development, ‘meeting the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’, was produced by the Brundtland report (WCED, 1987). In many ways Brundtland was a political fudge (Middleton et al., 1993, p. 16), based on an ambiguity of meaning (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996) in order to gain widespread acceptance. The combination of socio-economic concerns and environmental concerns was guaranteed to be a contest field as the long standing debates within both socio-economics...
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