It is possible to frame sustainability as occurring when the global or local system is within a set of limits and boundaries, such as the concept of safe operating spaces within planetary boundaries. However, such framings, whilst highly useful conceptually, have been difficult to translate into operation, especially in the development of policies. Here we show how it is possible to define a safe operating space, bounded by sets of constraints. These constraints can be of a variety of forms (e.g., income, or biodiversity), and, importantly, they need not all be converted to a single common metric such as money. The challenge is to identify a set of policy options that define the “safe policy space” which maintains the system within the safe operating space defined by boundaries. A formal methodology, Co-Viability Analysis (CVA), can be used to do this. This provides a coherent framework to operationalize sustainability and has a number of extra advantages. First, defining a safe policy space allows for a political choice of which policies and so is not prescriptive—such as would be the case if a single policy option were defined. Secondly, by allowing each boundary to be defined with its own scale of measurement, it avoids the necessity of having to value natural capital or ecosystem services in financial terms. This framework, therefore, has the potential to allow decision-makers to genuinely meet the needs of their people, now and in the future.
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