1st Edition

Sustainable Action Overcoming the Barriers

By Christian Berg Copyright 2020
    318 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    318 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.





    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


    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 www.christianberg.net.

    "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, Globethics.net; 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