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UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPTS OF SUSTAINABILITY

2.4

Sustainability today 3: The capability approach

A concept of sustainability should include justice – justice between generations as well as justice within a generation. To realise this, justice can be seen as a currency. The capability approach, originally introduced by Amartya Sen, helps.

The capability approach asks what capabilities people need in order to be able to lead a life they value. The approach can serve as a basis for implementing intra- and intergenerational justice. Explained in this way, sustainability is based on a specific concept of justice. This concept builds on a specific scientific understanding of what well-being means.

How can environmental dimensions be included in this concept? This is the question Paul Burger addresses in this video. He explains that the capability approach helps to concretise sustainability: Different capitals can be understood as inputs that are needed to give all people the choice to live a life they value.

Paul Burger refers to the following two diagrams in the video. The first illustrates the concept of the Indian economist Amartya Sen, who initiated the capability approach.

Diagram 1 shows the structural elements of the capability approach which displays the Human Development Index as a relevant input factor. Diagram 1: Structural elements of the capability approach which displays the Human Development Index as a relevant input factor. © Author’s own elaboration; adapted by the New Media Center.


The second adapts a few elements specifically to answer the question of what sustainable development is.

Diagram 2 shows the structural elements of the capability approach using five types of capitals as relevant input factors. Diagram 2: Structural elements of the capability approach using five types of capitals as relevant input factors. © Source: Lienert & Burger 2015; adapted by the New Media Center.

Author: Paul Burger


References

Burger, P., Lienert, J. (2015). Merging capabilities and livelihoods: analyzing the use of biological resources to improve well-being. Ecology and Society, 20 (2), p. 20.

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