Buen Vivir, Degrowth and Ecological Swaraj: Alternatives to sustainable development and the Green Economy


This article proposes that the ‘Green Economy’ is not an adequate response to the unsustainability and inequity created by ‘development’ (a western cultural construct), and puts forward alternative socio-environmental futures to (and not of) development. ‘Sustainable development’ is an oxymoron. Therefore, instead of the ‘post-2015 development agenda’, we argue in favour of the ‘2015 post-development agenda’. We discuss Buen Vivir from Latin America, Degrowth from Europe and Ecological Swaraj (or Radical Ecological Democracy) from India. The intention is to outline that there is politics beyond a unilinear future, unsustainable and unjust, consisting primarily of economic growth.

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  1. 1.

    ‘The key aim for a transition to a Green Economy is to enable economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness’. (UNEP, 2011: 16).

  2. 2.

    Adapted from Kothari (2013). As this article was going to press, the final outcome document of the SDG process came out, though formally not yet adopted. It was too late for us to review in detail, however on a quick reading, we did not find any significant change from the previous documents that we analyze here, so we consider our critique still fully pertinent. The final text for adoption on the 25–27 September 2015 is available here (Last accessed on 18 August, 2015) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.

  3. 3.

    Considering the weak and arbitrary nature of GDP as an indicator (Van den Bergh, 2009), and following Latouche (2009), the irrelevance of GDP increases/decreases can be expressed with the term ‘a-growth’ in the same sense that one can be an a-theist (Demaria et al., 2013).

  4. 4.

    Frugal abundance is the term used by Latouche (2009). Understanding degrowth as a ‘matrix of alternatives’ we should also consider other proposals with similar connotations such as: ‘conviviality’ by Ivan Illich, ‘prosperity without growth’ by Tim Jackson, ‘better with less’ by Jose Manuel Naredo, ‘Buen Vivir’ by indigenous communities as recognized in the Constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, and also ‘Eudaimonia’ by Aristotle, human flourishing, joie de vivre and others.

  5. 5.

    Consider the remarkable interest created by our brief article in The Guardian, on a similar theme, titled ‘Sustainable development is failing but there are alternatives to capitalism’ (21 July, 2015), available at http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jul/21/capitalism-alternatives-sustainable-development-failing?CMP=share_btn_tw.


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The authors acknowledge useful comments on a previous draft by Filka Sekulova, and kind support by the Editor Stefano Prato. Special thanks to grass-roots activists who continue to be an incredible source of inspiration. Federico Demaria received financial support from the project ‘Social innovations for Alternative Ecological Economies’ (SINALECO; PK612919).


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Challenges the conventional Sustainable Development and Green Economy paradigms and puts forward alternative socio-environmental futures inspired by alternative visions and politics

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Kothari, A., Demaria, F. & Acosta, A. Buen Vivir, Degrowth and Ecological Swaraj: Alternatives to sustainable development and the Green Economy. Development 57, 362–375 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/dev.2015.24

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  • well-being
  • environmental justice
  • sustainability
  • economic growth
  • equity
  • sustainable development