The Ecological Citizen

A free-to-access publication confronting human supremacy in defence of the Earth


Long article

Understanding what sustainability is not – and what it is

Tony Lynch, Tanzimuddin Khan

The Ecological Citizen Vol 3 Suppl B 2020: 55–65

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First published: 21 February 2020  |  Permanent URL  |  Download citation in RIS format


This paper argues that the policy principle of ecologically sustainable development – first and famously articulated in the Brundtland Report of 1987, Our Common Future – is an impossible principle. As a guiding principle, it demands that we must simultaneously maximize three different things: social justice, ecological sustainability and economic development. However, this is impossible to do. Despite the principle – and the closely associated idea of 'triple bottom line accounting' – being nonsensical, it has been maintained because it serves a number of other ends. It provides psychological comfort, it helps to maintain the status quo of business-as-usual neoliberal capitalism and it provides status-rewarding employment for the professional class. For true ecocentric sustainability on 'spaceship' Earth, we need to reject 'sustainable development' and build an ethically founded eco-socialism.



Ecological economics, Eco-socialism, Limits, Sustainability, Sustainable development