Themes in New Directions in Sustainability and Society

The key to successfully implement sustainability is knowing that sustainability encompasses many disciplines and themes including:

Equity and justice

Allowing future generations to have the resources to pursue meaningful, fulfilling lives (intergenerational equity) is a core sustainability principle. Decisions about the present and future generations will involve difficult trade-offs that must be considered through the lens of justice and equity.

Necessary behavior change must consider motivations that are guided by religion, belief, and culture. A key challenge for sustainability will be the ability to integrate multiple ways of knowing about the world.

Trade-offs and scale

A transition to a sustainable future will depend on the recognition of true costs of current human-environment interactions. Sustainability research requires recognition of the scale of possible solutions.

For instance, a solution at the local scale to reduce water pollution (by sending it downstream) may have negative consequences at the regional or even global scale. Consequences at the global level, such as climate change, are likely to be very uneven at local scales. Sustainability research and practice needs to consider implications of temporal scales.

Vulnerability and resilience

Sustainability strategies search for ways to reduce vulnerability to harm and make systems resilient. Drawn from ecological theory, resilience is the ability of a system to absorb shocks without fundamentally changing the structure and function of that system.

A long-term perspective is helpful for revealing the dynamics of socio-ecological systems in the face of threats, opportunities, and surprises. Historical and archaeological research, for example, can tell us something about how societies have responded (or not) to socio-ecological challenges and what that might teach us about social transformation, a key sustainability goal.

Biological and cultural diversity

In ecological systems, biodiversity is a powerful measure of ecological integrity and health. For social systems, there is increasing attention to the value of diversity in culture, knowledge, governance, beliefs, and experiences in supporting the transition to a sustainable future.

Long-term perspectives

Sustainability challenges the status quo as a viable or desirable plan for the future. It promotes the idea of fundamental transformations in human-environment relationships. Historical and archaeological perspectives can shed light on the dynamics of failed and successful transformations.