Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 853–870 | Cite as

The relevance of ecological and economic policies for sustainable development

  • Stefan HellstrandEmail author
  • Kristian Skånberg
  • Lars Drake


A sustainable development can be understood as social and economic development within ecological sustainability limits. The operationalisation of a sustainable development presupposes integration of resource concepts covering relevant disciplines and systems levels. In this paper descriptive domains within physical resource theory (PRT), nutrition theory (NT), economic theory (ET) and emergy theory (EmT) are joined in what we call a “sustainability map.” The sustainability map represents a conceptual model of the economic production system in its ecological and social contexts. It is a contribution within the field integrated assessment. The relevance domain of each resource concept is analysed by comparison with the sustainability map. It is concluded that resource concepts that well supports a sustainable development should recognise the process restrictions that defines ecological, economic and social sustainability limits; thus recognise and in a relevant way treat threshold—and resilience phenomena; and capture the use-value of resources for human well-being. We suggest that the integration of NT, ET and EmT may contribute, while we find the value of PRT limited, as physics, thus PRT, is indifferent to life as a system characteristic, while life of microbes, plants, animals and humans is central in the sustainability context. The paper contributes to a theoretical foundation supporting a bridging of the implementation gap of a sustainable development, e.g. through its proposal of how to develop more accurate natural resource concepts.


Resource concepts Value measures Exergy Emergy Integrated assessment Sustainable development Multi-disciplinary 



Animal and human physiology


Animal nutrition theory


Emergy theory


Economic theory


Human capital


Human nutrition theory


Impredicative Loop Analysis


Man-made capital


Natural capital


Non-renewable natural capital


Non-renewable natural resources


Natural resources


Nutrition theory


Physical resource theory


Renewable natural capital


Renewable natural resources


Social capital



This study was performed with financial support from Ekhagastiftelsen, Nutek—the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, The Nordic Council of Ministers, and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Hellstrand
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristian Skånberg
    • 2
  • Lars Drake
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Urban and Rural DevelopmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesKilSweden
  2. 2.Department of Forest EconomicsSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden
  3. 3.Swedish Chemicals AgencySundbybergSweden

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