What is strong sustainability?

The concept of strong sustainability is based on the scientific fact that all human life and activity occurs within the limitations of planet Earth, or the 'biosphere' where humankind lives, including all societal functions, such as the economy. 

It is a self-evident truth that without a functioning biosphere there can be no society or 'sociosphere', and without a sociosphere there can be no societal functions, including an economy or 'econosphere'.

Strong sustainability recognises that in order for human civilisation to continue, the true model for sustaining the planet on which we rely to survive should look like this:


This is a very different model to the current Triple Bottom Line (TBL) model for sustainability that is widely used:



The TBL model above can never sustain the biosphere on which we depend because it places the same importance on the economy that it does on the resource the economy relies on to thrive.

In general practice, TBL methods actually place the greatest importance on the economy, with societal and environmental values treated as secondary considerations. Thus we have what is referred to as the Mickey Mouse version of the TBL model.


If humankind is to avoid major environmental and atmospheric catastrophes on a global scale, and the flow on effects of this, we need to shift beyond the threshold to the strong sustainability model.

Required ethics and values for a sustainable New Zealand

  1. Placing great importance on non-material sources of happiness.
  2. Removing the perceived linkage between economic growth, material possessions, and success.
  3. Affirming the deep interdependence of all people. The associated community values include a robust sense of mutual respect, fairness, cooperation, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, humility, courage, mutual aid, charity, confidence, trust, courtesy, integrity, loyalty, and respectful use of resources. 
  4. Affirming the value of local community with associated benefits of reduced environmental footprints and increased cooperation between people. 
  5. Valuing nature intrinsically through knowing that human society and its political economy are integral and interdependent components of nature and the biosphere. Humans have reverence for nature and know that they are responsible for their impact on the integrity of all ecosystems in the biosphere.

Definition of strong sustainability

  1. Strong sustainability is the prerequisite and foundation of any human development, whether social, economic or technological.
  2. Strong sustainability means the preservation of the integrity of all ecological systems in the biosphere.
  3. Ecological integrity means the ability of an ecosystem to recover from disturbance and reestablish its stability, diversity and resilience.
  4. A strongly sustainable human society lives  and develops as an integral part of ecosystems that have ecological integrity.
  5. Ethics, values and ‘world views’ directly support strong sustainability because people know that they are integral with the ecological systems of the biosphere. therefore, people  desire the integrity of those systems.
      Glossary of sustainability terms

Essential conditions for a sustainable New Zealand

Enabling condition 1
New Zealand limits emissions into the atmosphere, discharges into waterways and the ocean, and chemicals into soil, to levels within the assimilative capacities of the relevant ecosystems.

Enabling condition 2
New Zealand regenerates and grows natural and social capital to sustain the health and resilience of its people and their institutions, and the whole of nature.

Enabling condition 3
New Zealand substitutes renewable resources for non-renewable resources wherever feasible, and uses these as efficiently as possible. Non-renewable material resources are stewarded within closed cycles that maintain their quality, and non-renewable energy resources are used at a rate that is no greater than the rate of investment in their replacement by renewable energy sources.

Enabling condition 4
New Zealanders are broadly and deeply eco-literate and have a strong human-Earth relationship. Through education, they know that people are part of nature and ecosystems and understand that what they do to nature they do to themselves.

Enabling condition 5
Strong sustainability understanding is deeply embedded in all of New Zealand’s governance, economic, legal, and educational systems, and all applications of these systems.

Enabling condition 6
New Zealand imports only from countries and regions that have produced goods according to strongly sustainable criteria and refuses to benefit materially from unsustainable practices offshore. All New Zealand’s exports are produced by strongly sustainable processes and practice.


Comments