The sustainability of 'sustainability': a study into the conceptual foundations of the notion of 'sustainability'

N.R. Faber, R.J.J.M. Jorna, J.M.L. van Engelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The new challenge for organisations is to deal with the complex issue of sustainability. However, the confusion surrounding "sustainability" hinders its implementation. This article formulates a framework consisting of three aspects to analyse the conceptual developments that underlie "sustainability": the artefact ("what"), goal orientation ("relative versus absolute") and (behavioural) interaction ("static versus dynamic"). The study of conceptual foundations underpins the framework. Contributions in both the theoretical (definitions) and the practical (indicators) spheres are analysed. The discussion about sustainability takes place in firms. Therefore, organisational developments are used as a reference timeline. Based on observations and analyses, this article suggests a new course for the sustainability discussion and its implications for the organisational context: a knowledge approach focussing on transparency and dialogue. This also implies that the emphasis in the sustainability discussion is changing from a merely environmental to an organisational and societal perspective. © 2005 Imperial College Press.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-33
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of environmental assessment policy and management (JEAPM)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • sustainability
  • conceptual development
  • conceptual foundation
  • organisations
  • knowledge management


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