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Sustainable Development: Theoretical Construct or Attainable Goal?

  • David Simon (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 August 2009

Awareness of the environmental implications of different development strategies has grown significantly since the early 1970s. Although much destruction is still being wrought, there are at last hopeful signs that some major multilateral development agencies, governments, and NGOs, are beginning to adopt more environmentally sensitive policies.

Recent advances in environmental and development theory have focused on the concept of sustainable development, arguing that the environment must be seen as an integral part of long-term sustainable development rather than merely as a resource to be exploited or traded for economic development.

This paper reviews recent contributions to the literature on both conceptual and empirical aspects of this topical debate, stressing particularly the ‘Brundtland Commission’ report and the work of Michael Redclift. An historically sensitive political perspective is proposed as most appropriate for embracing not only the more traditional ecological and economic aspects but also the crucial political factors underlying uneven development and underdevelopment in the age of an increasingly integrated global economic system. Although we now have a fairly sophisticated theoretical understanding of sustainable development, appropriate methodologies and techniques for translating this into practice are still required. The paper concludes that a blend of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches would give greatest flexibility, and suggests how the assessment of sustainability at the level of individual agro-ecological systems might be advanced.

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G. Conway (1985). Agro-ecosystem analysis. Agricultural Administration, 20, pp. 3155.

M. Redclift (1987). Sustainable Development: Exploring the Contradictions. Methuen, London, England, UK: x + 221 pp.

C.A. Tisdell (1988). Sustainable development: differing perspectives of ecologists and economists, and relevance to LDCs. World Development, 16(3), pp. 373–84.

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  • ISSN: 0376-8929
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