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Sustainability and Sustainable Development: Philosophical Distinctions and Practical Implications


  • Donald Charles Hector
  • Carleton Bruin Christensen
  • Jim Petrie


The terms 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' have become established in the popular vernacular in the 25 years or so since the publication of the report of the Brundtland Commission. Often, 'sustainability' is thought to represent some long-term goal and 'sustainable development' a means or process by which to achieve it. Two fundamental and conflicting philosophical positions underlying these terms are identified. In particular, the commonly held notion that sustainable development can be a pathway to sustainability is challenged, and the expedient view that both terms ultimately serve holistic development is questioned. Furthermore, it is argued that perpetuating the unclear and misleading distinction between the two positions will limit the development of efficacious policy, as it will not resonate with the broadest possible gamut of beliefs and value systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald Charles Hector & Carleton Bruin Christensen & Jim Petrie, 2014. "Sustainability and Sustainable Development: Philosophical Distinctions and Practical Implications," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 23(1), pages 7-28, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev23:ev2301

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    More about this item


    Sustainability; sustainable development; ecological philosophy;

    JEL classification:

    • D46 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Value Theory
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development


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