From (Strong) sustainability to degrowth

A philosophical and historical reconstruction

Authored by: Barbara Muraca , Ralf Döring

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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The history and destiny of the idea of sustainability, and of a sustainable development, can be symbolically captured by two images, both of which are logos. The first dates to 1992, when this idea found its first global success with the Rio Earth Summit; the second is from the more recent Rio+20 Summit that “reinvented” it in a new, allegedly more appealing fashion. 1 While the logo of the first Rio summit represents a hand/dove holding the planet and a branch of leaves, the logo from 2012 presents a more complex design that is supposed to summarize the core messages of what sustainable development had become. The first logo attempts to convey a message of peace and balance, holding and sustaining the planet in a rather literal sense. In the new logo, the planet is free-floating and constituted by the circular movement of three stylized icons, each representing one of the three dimensions of sustainable development identified during the first Rio summit: environmental (a green leaf), social (a red human figure), and economic (blue stairs). Not much fantasy is needed to read into the symbol. The green and the red icons flow into the blue of the central image that connects them and holds them together; the economic dimension is represented by a stairway going up from the bottom left low to the upper right-hand corner. It is the Western model of economic growth, from left to right, from low to high. Twenty years after the first Earth Summit it has now become manifest not only that growth is at the center of sustainability efforts, but also that it is supposed to be the core that allows for environmental and social policies to take place.

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