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Conceptualizing sustainable development: An assessment methodology connecting values, knowledge, worldviews and scenarios


  • de Vries, Bert J.M.
  • Petersen, Arthur C.


Sustainability science poses severe challenges to classical disciplinary science. To bring the perspectives of diverse disciplines together in a meaningful way, we describe a novel methodology for sustainability assessment of a particular social-ecological system, or country. Starting point is that a sustainability assessment should investigate the ability to continue and develop a desirable way of living vis-à-vis later generations and life elsewhere on the planet. Evidently, people hold different values and beliefs about the way societies sustain quality of life for their members. The first step, therefore, is to analyze people's value orientations and the way in which they interpret sustainability problems i.e. their beliefs. The next step is to translate the resulting worldviews into model-based narratives, i.e. scenarios. The qualitative and quantitative outcomes are then investigated in terms of associated risks and opportunities and robustness of policy options. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) has followed this methodology, using extensive surveys among the Dutch population. In its First Sustainability Outlook (2004), the resulting archetypical worldviews became the basis for four different scenarios for policy analysis, with emphases on the domains of transport, energy and food. The goal of the agency's Sustainability Outlooks is to show that choices are inevitable in policy making for sustainable development, to indicate which positive and negative impacts one can expect of these choices (trade-offs), and to identify options that may be robust under several worldviews. The conceptualization proposed here is both clear and applicable in practical sustainability assessments for policy making.

Suggested Citation

  • de Vries, Bert J.M. & Petersen, Arthur C., 2009. "Conceptualizing sustainable development: An assessment methodology connecting values, knowledge, worldviews and scenarios," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(4), pages 1006-1019, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:68:y:2009:i:4:p:1006-1019

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bert J.M. de Vries, 2001. "Perceptions and risks in the search for a sustainable world: a model-based approach," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 4(4), pages 434-453.
    2. Costanza, Robert & Fisher, Brendan & Ali, Saleem & Beer, Caroline & Bond, Lynne & Boumans, Roelof & Danigelis, Nicholas L. & Dickinson, Jennifer & Elliott, Carolyn & Farley, Joshua & Gayer, Diane Elli, 2007. "Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(2-3), pages 267-276, March.
    3. Janssen, Marco & de Vries, Bert, 1998. "The battle of perspectives: a multi-agent model with adaptive responses to climate change," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 43-65, July.
    4. Sterman, John & Booth Sweeney, Linda, 2002. "Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming," Working papers 4361-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    5. Solava Ibrahim, 2006. "From Individual to Collective Capabilities: The Capability Approach as a Conceptual Framework for Self-help," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(3), pages 397-416.
    6. Frances Stewart, 2005. "Groups and Capabilities," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(2), pages 185-204.
    7. Distaso, Alba, 2007. "Well-being and/or quality of life in EU countries through a multidimensional index of sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 163-180, October.
    8. Nourry, Myriam, 2008. "Measuring sustainable development: Some empirical evidence for France from eight alternative indicators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 441-456, October.
    9. Jager, W. & Janssen, M. A. & De Vries, H. J. M. & De Greef, J. & Vlek, C. A. J., 2000. "Behaviour in commons dilemmas: Homo economicus and Homo psychologicus in an ecological-economic model," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 357-379, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cornelia Gabriela Piciu & Iuliana Militaru, 2013. "Economic Conceptualization Of Negative Environmental Externalities," Romanian Economic Business Review, Romanian-American University, vol. 8(3.1), pages 123-130, September.
    2. Castro e Silva, Manuela & Teixeira, Aurora A.C., 2011. "A bibliometric account of the evolution of EE in the last two decades: Is ecological economics (becoming) a post-normal science?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 849-862, March.
    3. Hedlund-de Witt, Annick, 2012. "Exploring worldviews and their relationships to sustainable lifestyles: Towards a new conceptual and methodological approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 74-83.
    4. Rauschmayer, Felix & Bauler, Tom & Schäpke, Niko, 2013. "Towards a governance of sustainability transitions: Giving place to individuals," UFZ Discussion Papers 17/2013, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Division of Social Sciences (ÖKUS).
    5. Ella Furness & Harry Nelson, 2016. "Are human values and community participation key to climate adaptation? The case of community forest organisations in British Columbia," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 135(2), pages 243-259, March.
    6. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:5:p:1540-:d:145966 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Hedlund-de Witt, Annick, 2011. "The rising culture and worldview of contemporary spirituality: A sociological study of potentials and pitfalls for sustainable development," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(6), pages 1057-1065, April.
    8. repec:eee:ecolec:v:147:y:2018:i:c:p:21-28 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Jahn, Thomas & Bergmann, Matthias & Keil, Florian, 2012. "Transdisciplinarity: Between mainstreaming and marginalization," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 1-10.
    10. Bebbington, Jan & Larrinaga, Carlos, 2014. "Accounting and sustainable development: An exploration," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 395-413.
    11. Ella Furness & Harry Nelson, 2016. "Are human values and community participation key to climate adaptation? The case of community forest organisations in British Columbia," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 135(2), pages 243-259, March.
    12. Blanchard, Anne & Hauge, Kjellrun Hiis & Andersen, Gisle & Fosså, Jan Helge & Grøsvik, Bjørn Einar & Handegard, Nils Olav & Kaiser, Matthias & Meier, Sonnich & Olsen, Erik & Vikebø, Frode, 2014. "Harmful routines? Uncertainty in science and conflicting views on routine petroleum operations in Norway," Marine Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 313-320.
    13. Mathijs Vliet & Kasper Kok, 2015. "Combining backcasting and exploratory scenarios to develop robust water strategies in face of uncertain futures," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 43-74, January.
    14. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:6:p:994-:d:100971 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Stijepic, Denis & Wagner, Helmut, 2017. "On cross-system interactions and the sustainability of (economic) development," MPRA Paper 86147, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 11 Apr 2018.
    16. Griewald, Yuliana & Rauschmayer, Felix, 2014. "Exploring an environmental conflict from a capability perspective," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 30-39.
    17. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:4:p:1108-:d:140027 is not listed on IDEAS


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