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Never a blueprint: social construction of sustainability Greening of Industry, Cardiff, 2-5 July 2006 Dr. Judith E.M. Klostermann Wageningen University,

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Presentation on theme: "Never a blueprint: social construction of sustainability Greening of Industry, Cardiff, 2-5 July 2006 Dr. Judith E.M. Klostermann Wageningen University,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Never a blueprint: social construction of sustainability Greening of Industry, Cardiff, 2-5 July 2006 Dr. Judith E.M. Klostermann Wageningen University, The Netherlands

2 Outline of research What does sustainability mean? In the literature? In practice? Conclusions: consequences of social construction of sustainability

3 Social construction theory reality‘reality’ consensusdebate

4 Origins of the concept ‘sustainable development’ Sustainable forestry / fisheries Club of Rome 1972: no economic growth IUCN 1980: sustainable development within a free market? Brundtland report 1987

5 Brundtland Commission in ‘Our Common Future’: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

6 Issues in the debate on sustainability: Economic growth can be sustainable / economic growth should stop. Human needs are culturally determined / a basic subsistence level can be defined. Natural resources can be substituted by technology / substitution is impossible and/or morally wrong. Non-renewables can be used / only renewables should be used Extinction is allowed if it does not destabilize / other species have a right to exist

7 Sustainability as a contested concept Global carrying capacity can not be calculated objectively, so it can only be guided by normative views (WRR 1994). ‘Ecological modernization’: environmental problems can be solved within existing arrangements such as democracy & market economy (Hajer, 1995). Sustainable development is nothing else but a discourse (Dryzek, 1997).

8 Anthropocentric vs ecocentric views Weak sustainability Strong sustainability Nature-human interaction Nature mastered by humanity Search for harmony nature/human Gap between present and future Incremental change years May take years PrioritiesEnvironmental and economic issues Equity and ecojustice

9 Sustainability in practice Case studies in two Dutch drinking water companies –Provincial Water company North Holland (PWN) –Water Company Overijssel (WMO) Ho do they construct ‘sustainability’? Ethnographic interviews

10 Two different views on resources: PWN: “We initiated the reduction of groundwater extractions by ourselves (...) And other water companies were not amused. (...) They thought that, as a water company, you should strive for maximal groundwater extraction. (...) groundwater is, of course, the most ideal resource for drinking water.” WMO: “But that report also made us aware that the present [groundwater] extraction sites, in terms of sustainability, offer many possibilities. A lot more possibilities than we thought in advance.”

11 Resources for drinking water in the Netherlands

12 Physical circumstances play a role

13 Physical geography does not explain it all WMO has similar problems with desiccation and reduced biodiversity PWN is less pro-active in ‘het Gooi’: “we were forced by the government to reduce groundwater extractions. (...) groundwater extractions had less influence than, for example, (...) keeping a certain polder dry. (...) But to fill up a polder again, that’s much more difficult for those institutions.” Institutions play a role in how problems are explained Knowledge plays a role

14 PWN: sustainability in a relatively simple institutional context Provincial government owns 100% of the shares PWN adheres to governmental monopoly Provincial government assigned nature management to PWN in 1934 Ideas on sustainability at PWN and at the provincial government are similar Most important theme: how to combine water production and nature management?

15 PROV: “There was massive resistance from the companies. But when the Groundwater Plan was confirmed by the democratic procedures of the province, it was accepted rather quickly.” PWN: “At a certain point (...) we said, ‘Well, if this is the direction that our owner (…) has chosen, then let’s not resist that. (...) let’s give it an extra impulse.’” PWN: “Because we needed them to cover us, of course. All those new technologies cost a lot more money.”

16 “Dune nature reserve. Keep your dog on a leash”

17 WMO: sustainability under complicated institutional circumstances WMO shares large groundwater system with a number of other stakeholders WMO: “The water board says, ‘(...) we don’t really know what will happen when a water extraction moves out.’ (...) I do know what will happen, the moment drinking water moves out, the area will become wet (...) the water board will build a pumping station, will start draining the area, (...) because agriculture has to produce. So you only shift the problem.”

18 WMO: “So now we focus much more on cooperation and on creating consensus about the concept of sustainability.” WMO: “We judge it by the level of debate among other stakeholders. (...) And that’s exactly the trouble. (…) when you’ve solved the problem in agriculture, nature organizations have a problem and then the water board has a problem. It’s a different stakeholder every time. So... what strategy do we choose? Or should we simply temporize and talk some more (...) and that’s more or less our strategy now.”

19 “Sustainable, sustainable, and sustainable once more…”

20 Economic circumstances play a role WMO: “With water saving and losing business to farmers, (...) water sales have tumbled.” WMO: “When sales go down, and you have less income, and you also have to do a major restructuring of extraction sites, well, that’s very inconvenient. So you have to stay on top of the debate and make sure you safeguard the sustainability continuously.” PROV: “The smaller extraction sites, which are more difficult to operate economically, are the ones that are closed down. (...) And they also want to make them sustainable, the extraction sites. By doing that, they want to show a positive attitude.”

21 Conclusions 1: Factors influencing construction of ‘sustainability’ Physical circumstances: availability of resources Knowledge of system: simple vs complicated Institutional context: consensus vs debate Economic circumstances: growth vs shrinking market

22 Conclusions 2: consequences of social construction of sustainability +: keeps human-nature relation on the agenda +: local knowledge can be included +: people feel that the concept is their own +: inspires to action +: in the process of implementation people can learn new things -: limited by economic circumstances: only weak sustainability (damage control)

23 Never a blueprint: social construction of sustainability Greening of Industry, Cardiff, 2-5 July 2006 Dr. Judith E.M. Klostermann Wageningen University, The Netherlands


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