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Limits to Growth, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Products, ....

Sense and Nonsense of Sustainability Buzzwords






How Limits to Growth became Green Growth - a history of buzzwords

Here you can download four essays. To be used freely, if referred to as: R. de Man, <title of the essay>, downloaded from www.rdeman.nl

  • The Forbidden Question
    In this chapter, I show how vested interest, with economists as their usual allies, have tried to discredit ideas of ‘Limits to Growth’ in many different ways, most often by pointing at the weakness of the methodologies and the low quality of the data used. Indeed, many of the methodologies show serious faults and many data are debatable. However, none of these criticisms are strong enough to convince us that ‘Limits to Growth’ are non-existent. Even the basic message of the original ‘Limits to Growth’ report remains valid. Contrary to what many believe, real developments between 1970 and 2000 are consistent with the outcome of the baseline calculations made in 1972. What could not be foreseen in 1972 is that the world in the beginning of the 21st century is faced with a threat of serious global destabilization: climate change. An overshoot of more than 2 ˚C with potentially disastrous consequences is almost certain . The ´doomsday prophesies´, ridiculed in the 1970s, may become reality earlier than foreseen.
  • Sustainable Development
    In this chapter, I try to show how the ‘sustainable development’ approach had the (intended or unintended) consequence of making the physical and ecological limits to economic activities less visible than they should have been.
  • Sustainable Business
    I show in this chapter how the concept of ‘sustainability’ that was embraced by the business community in the 1990s tries to combine a great number of partly unclear and partly contradicting approaches, often based on expectations without any logically or empirically valid basis. The business version of the sustainability concept has become as superficial and as internally contradictory as the daily life of board members and managers in the private sector. It still gives some guidance on doing ‘good things’, but nobody knows whether these ‘good things’ are sustainable or at least contribute to a sustainable development.
  • Circular Economy (see also links below)
    The ‘circular economy’ story is too good to be true. It grossly overestimates both the potential benefits of such a development and the real chances that such a development will take place on a large scale. It is alarming that this story, supported by powerful public and private players, is hardly accompanied by sound criticism. Even the academic world remains suspiciously silent. This is not a healthy situation. Sustainable development needs operationally effective strategies and actions instead of hollow slogans. In this (draft) chapter, I  show that the ideas of a ‘circular economy’, and more specifically the Cradle-to-Cradle methodology, may be helpful in a creative process of re-designing more sustainable products, production processes and supply chains, but that the claims made on the multiple benefits of a ‘circular economy’ cannot be justified at all.

If you are interested to use these draft texts in your own work or if you are interested in a presentation about the subject, please do not hesitate to contact me on reinier.de.man@rdeman.nl

Circular Economy: perpetuum mobile of sustainability

Popular ideas about sustainability and sustainable development are not always based on serious and logical thinking. The discussion about limits to growth has now derailed into a discussion on sustainable growth, in which illusions about unlimited growth are becoming wide-spread. Unfortunately, politicians, civil servants, consultants and managers take these illusions - violating against the Second Law of Thermodynamics far too seriously. See my letter to NRC-Handelsblad, one of the leading Dutch newspapers and the articles I wrote with Henning Friege and Han Brezet
» download NRC article (Dutch) / download translation
» article with Henning Friege
» article with Han Brezet / download English version