Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 487–501

Understanding and communicating sustainability: global versus regional perspectives

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10668-006-9076-x

Cite this article as:
Voinov, A. Environ Dev Sustain (2008) 10: 487. doi:10.1007/s10668-006-9076-x


While there is no single definition of sustainability, most would agree that it implies that a system is to be maintained at a certain level, held within certain limits. Sustainability denies run-away growth, but it also precludes any substantial set backs or cuts. This sustainability path is hard to reconcile with the renewal cycle that can be observed in most living systems developing according to their natural intrinsic mechanisms. Besides, since different human dominated systems are in significantly different states and stages of development, sustaining those states assumes maintaining social disparities in perpetuity. This creates a challenge in communicating the ideas of sustainability in different regions. Systems are parts of hierarchies where systems of higher levels are made of subsystems from lower levels. Renewal in components is an important factor of adaptation and evolution. But then sustainability of a system borrows from sustainability of a supra-system and rests upon lack of sustainability in subsystems. Therefore by sustaining certain systems beyond their renewal cycle, we decrease the sustainability of larger, higher level systems. The only way to resolve this contradiction is to agree that the biosphere as a whole with humans as one of its components is the only system which sustainability we are to seek.


Renewal cycle Hierarchy Release Adaptation Initial conditions 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gund Institute for Ecological EconomicsUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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