Real sustainable societies: what's up with that?


13 January 2014

Real sustainable societies: many are talking about it, but how does it actually look like? How does its economy look like? And its social society and its green one? Here a blog about how it may look like in my eyes in relation to the economy, the tool to stimulate the green and social side of society.

First of all, what is sustainability?

I delved into that in another blog entitled 'Sustainability is...'. A first real definition of sustainability was given by the Brundtland report 'Our Common Future' in 1987: "Sustainable development meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the needs of future generations'1. The aim is not to save the world, but to preserve them for the necessary needs of current and future (human) generations.

International, national and local treaties..

So that said, what about international, national and local treaties, plans, declarations and constitutions? How should they look like? Firstly, politicians would all have to base their declarations, pledged and rights to the basics of sustainability since it is an overall arching aspect of a society. But to get there, those making these treaties should first understand the meaning of sustainability and sustainable development in its essence. For instance, they should make the shift from ego / I centered thinking and acting, to more eco and 'we' (humans and nature alike) centered thinking and acting. In addition, a shift in thinking and feeling in time from here to there and later should be made: from this generation in your country to another one in another country (intergenerational) and from this generation to the next generations (intragenerational). Treaties would then be made easier for all parties since the stakes of all will be taken into account rather than one individual person and/or country. For instance, the new climate change treaty will then be more ambitious and based on the idea that by 2030 all countries have done all they can to realize a real sustainable society in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Indeed, by 2035, the world could run for 30% on renewable energy (RE). This includes electricity (80% RE), heat (60% RE), and transport (15%) RE). The goal is to reach 100% renewable energy worldwide after 2035, so says the International Renewable Energy Alliance in Warsaw in November 2013, during the UN climate change negotiations (see 'COP 19: Warsaw Climate Change Conference'). As such, so by 2050 all societies could be really sustainable. And how does that look like?

The economic side of society: The (w)economy should be locally based as much as possible. Local products and services should be stimulated as much as possible, but global produced products and services are also important as to stimulate the social side of international development. Furthermore, the (w)economy is based on social aspects and respecting and caring for each other and each others products and services. In addition, the (w)economy should incorporate the ideas of the blue, circular (cradle to cradle) and green economy, and in this order (see for earlier description of these on '10-10: a day full of inspiration'). The bleu economy because it is an economy based on creating more out of natural products and aspects. Nature is the inspiration source. The circular economy because the products and services can be recycled and up-cycled. And the green economy because it is based on sustainable and clean energy. Now we already have touched upon the green side of the society.

The green side of the society: the green side should be based on the green principles of the blue, circular and green economy. The first important aspects should be to focus on reducing all products and services which are harmful to the environment as much as possible. For instance, chemical products should be reduced and eliminated as much as possible. Then, natural based products and services, within closed, recycled and upgrading loops, while making use of green, clean and sustainable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, biogas and biofuels (2nd, not competing with food, and 3rd, algae and the like, generations) should be the focus of this green society.

The social side of the society: the social side should focus more on the 'we' of the economy: the weconomy or the social economy. People should take care of each other more and should focus on honesty, support, good health, equality, happiness, peace, respect, and living a good life in general. The later is of utter importance because it will have to be the base of all societies. Then war, struggle and inequality will be reduced to a substantial amount. It sounds a bit like I'm now turning into a Miss Universe, talking about peace worldwide, but it is the basis of sustainability to increase a good, peaceful and healthy social side of society to the highest possible. For instance, living in a house with more people should be based on respect and caring for each other.

Are we going to make this reality? Is this feasible? The figures tell us it is possible to reach these goals by 2030 and further, but there is much to do on the political side. So let's stimulate, inspire and act upon this and stimulate and stand by politicians who need to make these decisions and implement the (inter) national plans. It is possible, so let's make it reality!

 Figure 1: Nested systems of sustainability


'The three nested systems of sustainability - the economy wholly contained by society, wholly contained by the biophysical environment' (source: 

Source picture:


1Jonker, J. et al. (2011). Duurzaam Denken Doen. 2011 – 2035. Inspiratieboek voor onze gezamenlijke toekomst. Kluwer: Deventer; World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). (1987). Our common future. Annex to document A/42/427- Development and international co-operation: Environment.


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