Sustainable Action : Overcoming the Barriers book cover
1st Edition

Sustainable Action
Overcoming the Barriers

ISBN 9780367183219
Published December 2, 2019 by Routledge
318 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

In this timely exploration of sustainable actions, Christian Berg unpacks the complexity in understanding the barriers we face in moving towards a sustainable future, providing solution perspectives for every level, from individuals to governments and supra-national organizations offering a lucid vision of a long-term and achievable goal for sustainability.

While the 2030 Agenda has already set ambitious targets for humanity, it offers little guidance for concrete actions. Although much is already being done, progress seems slow and some actions aiming at sustainability may be counterproductive. Different disciplines, societal actors, governmental departments and NGOs attribute the slow progress to a number of different causes, from the corruption of politicians to the wrong incentive structures.

Sustainable Action surveys all the fields involved in sustainability to provide action principles which speak to actors of different kinds, not just those professionally mandated with such changes. It offers a road map to all those who might not constantly think about systems change but who are concerned and want to contribute to a sustainable future in a meaningful way.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of sustainability issues, as well as those looking for a framework for how to change their systems at work to impact the quadruple bottom line: environment, economy, society, and future generations.

Table of Contents





1 Introduction: Sustainability – A Utopian Ideal?

1.1 Sustainability – an 'exhausted' concept?

1.2 Phase transition towards sustainability

1.3 Understanding the barriers towards sustainability

1.4 Developing Action principles for Sustainability

1.5 Concept of sustainability

1.6 Structure of the book

1.7 Methodological approach

1.8 Summary

Part 1: Barriers

Intrinsic Barriers

2 Barriers related to physical reality

2.1 The Problem of ERoEI, Resources, and Pollution

2.2 Complexity

3 Barriers related to human condition

3.1 Cognitive Limitations: Linear and unconnected thinking

3.2 Moral Limitations – Greed, Selfishness and Ignorance

3.3 Value-action gap

3.4 Trade-offs

4 Barriers related to social reality

4.1 System inertness and path dependencies

4.2 "Meeting the needs of the present…"

4.2.1 Demand for sustainability starts with the present needs

4.2.2 Poverty as multidimensional phenomenon

4.2.3 The poor suffer most – environmental injustice

4.2.4 High Ecological Footprint or High Development – is there no alternative?

4.3 Populism and Fundamentalism

4.4 Inequalities

4.5 Conflicting Interests

4.5.1 No framework for resolving conflicting interests on international level

4.5.2 Conflicting interests are not always visible

4.5.3 Inequalities imply uneven negotiation powers and impede settlements

4.5.4 Leadership and Power Structures

Extrinsic Barriers 1 – Institutional Deficiencies

5 Economy: Faulty Market System

5.1 Market Failure

5.1.1 Public goods and the tragedy of the commons

5.1.2 Free-Riding

5.1.3 Externalization societies: Shift costs to the weak, to nature, and to the future

5.2 Pervasiveness of economic thinking

6 Politics: Lack of effective governance for global issues

6.1 Challenges of IGOs and multilateral international treaties

6.2 Geopolitics and the struggle of establishing a world order

7 Law: Legal difficulties related to sustainability

7.1 Sustainability concerns not institutionalized

7.2 Limiting of individual liberties for the sake of the common good?

7.2.1 Betterment of individual rights compared to public goods

7.2.2 Challenges to the concept of the common good

8 Technology: Mismatch Between Impact and Governance

9 Structural silos: Fragmentation of knowledge, Administration, and Responsibility

9.1 Fragmentation of Knowledge

9.2 Fragmentation of Administration

9.3 Fragmentation of Responsibility

Extrinsic Barriers 2 – Zeitgeist-dependent Barriers

10 Short-Term orientation and acceleration

11 Consumerism

Part 2 – Action Principles

12 Why Action Principles?

12.1 A change in perspective – Take the actor’s view

12.2 Why principles for sustainable action?

12.3 Types of principles

13 Nature-related principles

13.1 Decarbonize

13.2 Reduce Environmental Impact by Efficiency, Sufficiency, and Compatibility

13.3 Be "net-positive" – build up environmental and societal capital!

13.4 Prefer Local, Seasonal, Plant-based, and Labour-intensive

13.5 Polluter pays principle

13.6 Precautionary principle

13.7 Appreciate and Celebrate the Beauty of Nature

14 Personal principles

14.1 Why personal principles matter

14.2 Practice Praxis and Contemplation

14.3 Be not too certain – and apply policies cautiously

14.4 Celebrate Frugality

15 Society-related principles

15.1 Grant the least privileged the greatest support

15.2 Seek mutual understanding, trust and multiple-wins

15.3 Be Tolerant

15.4 Strengthen social cohesion and collaboration

15.5 Engage the Stakeholders

15.6 Foster education – share knowledge and collaborate

16 System-related principles

16.1 Apply systems thinking

16.1.1 Think holistically

16.1.2 Think long-term and decelerate

16.1.3 Think global – promote local

16.2 Foster Diversity

16.3 Increase Transparency of the Publicly Relevant

16.4 Maintain or Increase Option Diversity

17 Conclusion: Sustainable action principles trigger phase transition

17.1 Summary: Overcoming the Barriers

17.2 The Goal: Future of terra and humanity – Futeranity

17.2.1 Three challenges to the SDG process

17.2.2 The Utopian Ideal of Sustainability is Futeranity

17.2.3 Sustainable action principles facilitate Futeranity

17.2.4 The critical role of the actors for a transition towards sustainability

17.3 Outlook: Change is coming

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Christian Berg lectures on sustainability at different German universities (TU Clausthal, Saarland University, Kiel University). He has worked in business for more than a decade, among others as Chief Sustainability Architect at SAP. He has published several books on sustainability-related topics and has led the task force on Sustainable Economic Activity and Growth within German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Future Dialogue. He holds degrees in physics (Dipl.-Phys.), philosophy (MA), theology (Mag. Theol. and Dr Theol.), and engineering (Dr-Ing.). For further information, visit his website at


"Clearly our present approaches to achieving ‘sustainability’ are failing. And we are rapidly running out of time. This book offers a realistic, optimistic way forward based on complex systems thinking – multi-level approaches, reducing barriers, empowering actors through societies – all aimed at achieving the global societal tipping point that is required."
Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, The Australian National University, Senior Fellow, Stockholm Resilience Centre

"After several years of passionate talking, here comes a book by Christian Berg grounded in ethical reasoning and critical concern for the common good, fair trade and justice for all. He convincingly gives practical and measurable steps which remove man-made barriers, lack of political will, citizens' inaction for sustainable development with the aim that no one will be left behind."
Monsignor Prof Obiora Ike, Executive Director,; President, Club of Rome, Nigeria Chapter

"An important contribution at a critical time. People stand up for the future everywhere. A transition towards sustainability needs, however, an integrated approach towards its barriers and concrete guidance. This book is made so valuable due to its discussion of both factors."
Professor Dr. Uwe Schneidewind, President and Chief Research Executive, Wuppertal Institute