The foundations of the green movement – Part 2: From sustainable development to sustainable transition


In this part I’ll briefly describe sustainable development, starting from the Brundtland-definition and ending with the concept of transition. In the next post on paradigm shift, I’ll try to fill in how this transition is translated in ecologism (and why).

Sustainable development – the Brundtland-definition:

The term sustainable development was coined in the paper “Our Common Future,” released by the Brundtland Commission. Sustainable development is “the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The two key concepts of sustainable development are:

  • The concept of “needs” in particular the essential needs of the world’s poorest people, to which they should be given overriding priority; and
  • The idea of limitations which is imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet both present and future needs.

Needless to say, this definition gave a variety on discussion on when someone could call his actions sustainable. In the image below is a visualization of different interpretations on sustainable development:

Sustainable Development as a political concept

Because sustainability in its entirety covers all aspects of our society, it didn’t take long for Sustainable Development to become a political concept. This means it started to be defined by different political ideologies, thus creating dozens of different interpretations and meanings (crf. the image above).

Ecologism (the green movement) defined Sustainable Development based on three main principles:

  • Business As Usual (BAU) is impossible
  • Sustainable Development is a societal process that covers every aspect of our society
  • Sustainable Development is a transitional process.

The greater moral agenda of Sustainable Development:

  • Sustainability as the ability to flourish as a society
  • Respect for the ecological capacity of the earth (defined as strong sustainability in the image above)
  • Shared but differentiated responsibility
  • Environmental justice: Intra-generational justice and solidarity
  • Active participation and empowerment
  • Respect for biodiversity

As it does with every political concept, this definition lead to more discussion, resulting in three (for the green movement) complementary strategies:

  • Efficiency strategy: dematerialisation of the economy, closed cycles with renewable energy sources as the main key, technological improvement and paradigm shift.
  • Redistribution-strategy: Ecological justice, contraction and convergence, aim for equality (cfr. the spirit level)
  • Sufficiency-strategy: Decoupling of wellbeing and prosperity


Transition is about thinking in systems. Everything is interconnected as one complex combination of processes. There are almost no management techniques that learn us to think of interconnection between different actions, people and systems. Transition-management aims to cover this gap.

I’ll go in much deeper on transition in a next post, but for now I would like to share this link with you. It’s the vision of a research center in Belgium on how they want to implement sustainability as a transition in their company.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.


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