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Robèrt Forgot Goulet: Augmenting TNS with the Capabilities Approach to Support the Social Dimensions of Sustainability

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While the definition of sustainability remains open for all to contribute to and participate in, there do seem to be some notions it has come to embody that should not be neglected as the definition coalesces. Among these are the

While the definition of sustainability remains open for all to contribute to and participate in, there do seem to be some notions it has come to embody that should not be neglected as the definition coalesces. Among these are the ethical and social dimensions of sustainability. Whether or not it is appropriate, required, or even desirable, concepts like social equity, human rights, ethical sharing of commons, etc. have increasingly come under the umbrella of the sustainability discourse. Even if “sustainability” as a bare word doesn’t imply those things, the concept of sustainable development certainly has taken on those dimensions. That sustainability might be redefined or re-scoped to be a purely environmental or a rigidly scientific endeavor, is not an immediate concern of this paper, though if that were to occur (whether for the sake of simplicity or pragmatics), it should be done explicitly so the ethical sub-discourse can be maintained (indeed, sustained) by some other movement.

This paper proposes a mechanism by which such a migration in terms can be prevented. First, in reviewing the work of Denis Goulet, it shows the solid basis for including an ethical aspect in the sustainability discourse. Second, it points out that Karl-Henrik Robèrt’s highly-lauded and broadly-employed sustainability framework, The Natural Step, is deficient in this area. This deficiency provides the impetus for, finally, proposing a mechanism by which The Natural Step can be extended to include the important social and ethical dimensions of sustainability. This mechanism is based on the capabilities approaches that, in many respects, evolved out of Goulet’s early work. Augmented accordingly, TNS can continue to be used without fear of overlooking the social and ethical aspects of the sustainability discourse.

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