Socio economical principles

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Socio-Ecological Principles For A Sustainable Society Scientific background and Swedish experience

John Homberg, Karl-Henrik Robèrt and Karl-Erik Eriksson Revised version December 1994


Institute of Physical Resource Theory Chalmers University of Technology S-412 96 Göteborg (Gothenburg), SwedenPhone: +46 31 772 10 00 Fax: +46 31 772 31 50

Paper presented at the International Symposium “Down to Earth: Practical Application of ecological Economics” October 24-28, 1994 in Heredia, Costa Rica.

SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES FOR A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY Scientific background and Swedish experience

John Holmberg a, Karl-Henrik Robèrt b and Karl-Erik Eriksson a

a Institute of PhysicalResource theory, Chalmers University of Technology and Göteborg University, S-41296, Göteborg, Sweden. E-mail (JH): b The Natural Step Foundation, Amiraliteshuset, Skeppsholmen, S-11149 Stockholm, Sweden Abstract A long-term sustainable global society must have stable physical relations to the ecosphere. This implies sustainable material exchange between the society and theecosphere as well as limitations on society’s manipulation of nature. Physical, sustainable development then means (i) development towards such a sustainable relation and, after this has been reached, (ii) development within the boundaries of sustainable relation. Applying a systems perspective and putting our focus early in the causal chain, we derive four principles for a sustainable society that atleast must be fulfilled: (i) Substances extracted from the lithosphere must not systematically accumulate in the ecosphere. (ii) Society-produced substances must not systematically accumulate in the ecosphere. (iii) The physical conditions for production and diversity within the ecosphere must not systematically be deteriorated. (iv) The use of resources must be effective and just with respect tomeeting human needs. The principles require deep-going changes of paradigm and culture, and need a thorough discussion of the cultural roots – our values. The values that should be honored in a sustainable society are the value life of human and dignity and the value of life on Earth. The former implies that human welfare and justice are social goals. The latter implies that life and lifesupportingsystems are valued in their own right and not only for their support of the human society. The four socio-ecological principles have been worked out in close contact with a wide pedagogical practice. They have been found to function well in teaching situations and many actors within business and local administration in Sweden have adopted them as the basis for their strategies towards sustainabledevelopment. To promote the use of the four principles in business and politics, an organization called The Natural Step has been initiated. Experiences gained in this work are reviewed in the paper.

1. INTRODUCTION The discussion of environmental issues is often dominated by specific isolated problems, and often results in a number of very difficult questions, e.g., to determine criticalloads for different substances emitted from the society. There is lack of system perspective, and the focus is put late in the cause-effect chain. The need for early warning signals and a systems perspective is even more urgent now that the character of the environmental problems has changed and they have become more global, more diffuse, more delayed and more complex (Holmberg & Karlsson 1992). Thismeans that is has become more difficult to draw conclusions from changes in nature – apart from the conclusion that society has already acted wrongly. We need theoretical tools to formulate criteria that must be satisfied in a society having sustainable relations with nature. The concept of “sustainable development” was widely spread in connection with the report from the World Commission on...
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