Substantiating the rough consensus on the concept of sustainable development as a point of departure for indicator development

Authored by: Walter J. V. Vermeulen

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674769
eBook ISBN: 9781315561103
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter I maintain that, despite the endless condemnations of the vagueness of the concept and definition of sustainable development (SD), in practice we can see a rough consensus on what it includes. Claims about vagueness are the result of the on-going, open and divergent discourses on what is needed for sustainable development. This divergence has its roots in the shared tendency to disagree within and between academic disciplines; in the political arena; and the competitive framings of the concept in the market arena. However, despite this noisy cacophony, we see, in a few globally oriented communities of practice (of voluntary standards, GRI [Global Reporting Initiative], LCA [Life Cycle Assessment], LCSA [Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment], some of the well-developed sustainable development indicators), a rough consensus on the core elements of the concept of sustainable development, which is also well in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some sub-elements still need some refining, while some other key elements may still be further refined with additional sub-elements, but a core structure exists and is being widely worked with. In this chapter I bring together widely shared views in diverse academic and practitioners’ communities, which by smart combining can help to create an integrated view. I will reflect on the commonalities, some persistent confusion and show routes for further refinement.

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