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Special Issue "Sustainability and Ethics: Reflections on the UN Sustainable Development Goals"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 November 2018

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Behnam Taebi

1. Department of Values, Technology and Innovation, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, 2628 BX Delft, The Netherlands
2. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: responsible innovation; ethics of sustainability; multilateral risk governance; engineering ethics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Sustainability has always been deeply grounded in ethics. The very first influential use of this notion in the Brundtland Report was based on fundamental considerations of social justice, poverty and equality. In the early days, sustainable development related mostly to issues of resource management and environmental stewardship. In the decades that followed, it grew in focus and significance, encompassing a much larger area including agriculture, infrastructures, transport, architecture etc. With the introduction of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the focus of sustainability is expanding even further. Each of the seventeen proposed goals in the SDGs relate to a different morally relevant aspect of life, such as equal rights, safety, justice, well-being, education, good health and more. As such, sustainability has become a comprehensive notion that should guide us in living a good life on the planet.

While sustainability is essentially rooted in ethics, there is no profound understanding of the ethical implications of the SDGs when implemented in national and international policies. This special issue is seeking contributions that could spell out the ethical aspects of each of the SDGs (and the interrelations between the SDGs) as well as contributions that focus on the challenges associated with measuring and reporting of the performances associated with each goal (e.g. the UN SDG indicators). Meeting these goals requires the involvement of a broad range of sciences and engineering, which is why this special issue aims to bring together authors from different academic fields including (but not limited to) engineering sciences, Science and Technology Studies, ethics and philosophy, policy science, sociology and anthropology. Successful implementation of the SDGs will require active participation of very large groups of actors, both nationally and globally. The special issue welcomes papers form both academics and practitioners, including (but not limited to) policy-makers, civil society and the NGOs as well as the private sector.

Dr. Behnam Taebi
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • ethics of sustainability
  • equity and well-being

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Intergenerational Equity and the Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 3836; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113836
Received: 4 September 2018 / Revised: 16 October 2018 / Accepted: 18 October 2018 / Published: 23 October 2018
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Abstract
The contribution of the present research is to link the global consensus in international legal scholarship on the principle of intergenerational equity to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The methodology used is, first, to provide a literature review of theories of intergenerational equity
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The contribution of the present research is to link the global consensus in international legal scholarship on the principle of intergenerational equity to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The methodology used is, first, to provide a literature review of theories of intergenerational equity developed in international law scholarship, followed by a textual analysis of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that contains the SDGs. To place the SDGs in their proper context, an overview is provided of the most important declarations on sustainable development of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and outcome documents of the most important World Conferences on sustainable development organized under the auspices of the United Nations. Two general conclusions can be drawn from the present research: in international law scholarship and in the SDGs and previous declarations, the earth is generally seen as a resource, to be used by present and future people, and not as something warranting respect regardless of its worth to human beings. Second, the main challenge is to find a proper balance between intergenerational equity—present and future people—and intragenerational equity—the rich and the poor of the present generation. Full article
Open AccessArticle Designing a Sustainable Development Goal Index through a Goal Programming Model: The Case of EU-28 Countries
Sustainability 2018, 10(9), 3167; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10093167
Received: 10 August 2018 / Revised: 24 August 2018 / Accepted: 29 August 2018 / Published: 4 September 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (559 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations are at the center of the global political agenda to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal education, promote gender equality and ensure environmental sustainability between others. These goals are organised in 169 indicators,
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The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations are at the center of the global political agenda to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal education, promote gender equality and ensure environmental sustainability between others. These goals are organised in 169 indicators, which give an accurate perspective on the main dimensions related with country sustainable development. To gain insight into the relative position of involved countries, it is necessary to develop a composite index that summarises the global progress in the achievement of these goals, but considering possible conflicts and trade-offs between individual SDGs. The objective of this paper is to introduce a Goal Programming model to calculate a composite SDG index, capable of overcoming some of the limitations of celebrated approaches such as arithmetic and geometric averages. The proposed model balances between two extreme solutions: one which calculates a consensus index that reflects the majority trend of the SDGs, and another one which biases the estimated index towards those SDGs that show the most discrepancy with the rest. The model is applied on the EU-28 countries, and shows that the best performing countries regarding the sustainable development are Austria and Luxembourg, while Greece and Romania remain as the worst performers. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Why Affordable Clean Energy Is Not Enough. A Capability Perspective on the Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainability 2018, 10(7), 2485; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072485
Received: 9 May 2018 / Revised: 27 June 2018 / Accepted: 5 July 2018 / Published: 16 July 2018
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Abstract
This paper reflects on criticisms raised in the literature on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These have been criticized as creating a dichotomy between the environment and human beings that fails to address the multiple interconnections between the two. This paper focuses
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This paper reflects on criticisms raised in the literature on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These have been criticized as creating a dichotomy between the environment and human beings that fails to address the multiple interconnections between the two. This paper focuses on SDG7—“affordable and clean energy”—and suggests that there is in fact a tripartite distinction between the environment, human beings and technology underlying the SDGs. This distinction, we argue, does not adequately represent the multiple interconnections among the various SDGs and hampers their implementation. We contend that the formulation of SDG7 produces a circular definition of sustainability, a difficulty that is currently resolved at the level of the targets and indicators in a way that regards energy technologies primarily as artifacts. By contrast, the literature on ethical aspects of energy systems largely agrees that energy is a paradigmatic example of a sociotechnical system. We contend that, by not considering this sociotechnical nature, the SDGs run the risk of implicitly defending a certain variant of technological optimism and determinism. We argue that this is disadvantageous to the environment, human well-being and technological development. In line with recent critical evaluations of the SDGs, we argue that these (and other) shortcomings can be addressed by better connecting the SDGs to human well-being. Building on recent literature that expands the scope of the Capability Approach as an alternative measure of well-being so as to include considerations of sustainability, we articulate a framework that allows us to elucidate this connection and thus to take advantage of synergies between human well-being and the environment. On the basis of the Capability Approach, we argue that equating sustainable energy with renewable energy—as is done in the transition from SDG7’s goal to its targets—is indefensible because, as part of the overarching energy systems, energy technologies cannot be classified as simply right or wrong. Rather, the indicators and targets within a framework focused on sustainability need to be (more) context sensitive, meaning that, among other things, they may vary by country and with the available technology. Full article
Open AccessArticle A Thought Experiment on Sustainable Management of the Earth System
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1947; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061947
Received: 30 April 2018 / Revised: 1 June 2018 / Accepted: 7 June 2018 / Published: 11 June 2018
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Abstract
We introduce and analyze a simple formal thought experiment designed to reflect a qualitative decision dilemma humanity might currently face in view of anthropogenic climate change. In this exercise, each generation can choose between two options, either setting humanity on a pathway to
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We introduce and analyze a simple formal thought experiment designed to reflect a qualitative decision dilemma humanity might currently face in view of anthropogenic climate change. In this exercise, each generation can choose between two options, either setting humanity on a pathway to certain high wellbeing after one generation of suffering, or leaving the next generation in the same state as the current one with the same options, but facing a continuous risk of permanent collapse. We analyze this abstract setup regarding the question of what the right choice would be both in a rationality-based framework including optimal control, welfare economics, and game theory, and by means of other approaches based on the notions of responsibility, safe operating spaces, and sustainability paradigms. Across these different approaches, we confirm the intuition that a focus on the long-term future makes the first option more attractive while a focus on equality across generations favors the second. Despite this, we generally find a large diversity and disagreement of assessments both between and within these different approaches, suggesting a strong dependence on the choice of the normative framework used. This implies that policy measures selected to achieve targets such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can depend strongly on the normative framework applied and specific care needs to be taken with regard to the choice of such frameworks. Full article
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Open AccessArticle “The First Generation to End Poverty and the Last to Save the Planet?”—Western Individualism, Human Rights and the Value of Nature in the Ethics of Global Sustainable Development
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1853; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061853
Received: 30 March 2018 / Revised: 3 May 2018 / Accepted: 26 May 2018 / Published: 3 June 2018
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Abstract
The UN Agenda 2030 lends itself to an interpretation in light of the human rights framework and related contractualist ethical theories. These frameworks have been developed in the context of Western individualism. This paper analyses the sustainable development goals in light of the
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The UN Agenda 2030 lends itself to an interpretation in light of the human rights framework and related contractualist ethical theories. These frameworks have been developed in the context of Western individualism. This paper analyses the sustainable development goals in light of the debate between human rights on the one side and the rights of nature on the other side. It argues that human rights are often (though not exclusively) linked to social contract theories. The paper points out strengths and weaknesses of contractualist individualism. It discusses various challenges to the contractualist framework. How can contractualist individualism deal with the representation of future generations? What assumptions does the social contract make with regard to the nature of the individual? Should we conceive of them, e.g., as utility maximizers or as idealized rational agents? A final weakness of the framework is that contractualism seems to ignore other values, especially the value of nature. The paper therefore sketches recent developments in ethical theory that attempt to go beyond Western individualism. Full article
Open AccessArticle Sustainability and Ethics in the Process of Price Determination in Financial Markets: A Conceptual Analysis
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1638; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051638
Received: 2 April 2018 / Revised: 10 May 2018 / Accepted: 18 May 2018 / Published: 19 May 2018
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Abstract
This paper explores how financial markets can support the practical applicability of Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) principles and why ethics has a central role in this process. The efficient market hypothesis holds that a financial market is efficient when prices equate value. Extending
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This paper explores how financial markets can support the practical applicability of Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) principles and why ethics has a central role in this process. The efficient market hypothesis holds that a financial market is efficient when prices equate value. Extending this assertion to sustainability, it can be said that prices should become equal to sustainable value. Prices can be regarded as the addition of the present value of future expectations and the impact of short-term volatility. This property parallels the existence of two different types of shareholders: long-run shareholders, who are often involved in the management of the corporation, and short-run shareholders, who usually apply speculative strategies to the choice of their investments. The SGDs’ principles are logically thought for a long-run horizon. Their impact on corporate value stems mainly from the changes they introduce in environmental and social risk, apart from becoming a potential source of innovation. Nevertheless, their effects on the short-run perspective can be very small unless either market traders assume sustainability as a goal of their own or the sustainability effects are incorporated into prices. We hold that the second issue is safer and preferable. Both involve ethics: the former would require that investors perform any trade from an ethical perspective. The latter needs that the ethical emphasis is placed on the process of price determination. The achievement of this goal demands a wide display of information on sustainability, placed together with financial information, and appropriate regulation. Its analysis considers the principles of behavioral finance. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Simplicity and Sustainability: Pointers from Ethics and Science
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 1303; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10041303
Received: 14 December 2017 / Revised: 6 April 2018 / Accepted: 19 April 2018 / Published: 23 April 2018
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Abstract
In this paper, we explore the notion of simplicity. We use definitions of simplicity proposed by philosophers, scientists, and economists. In an age when the rapidly growing human population faces an equally rapidly declining energy/material resources, there is an urgent need to consider
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In this paper, we explore the notion of simplicity. We use definitions of simplicity proposed by philosophers, scientists, and economists. In an age when the rapidly growing human population faces an equally rapidly declining energy/material resources, there is an urgent need to consider various notions of simplicity, collective and individual, which we believe to be a sensible path to restore our planet to a reasonable state of health. Following the logic of mathematicians and physicists, we suggest that simplicity can be related to sustainability. Our efforts must therefore not be spent so much in pursuit of growth but in achieving a sustainable life. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Potential Trade-Offs between the Sustainable Development Goals in Coastal Bangladesh
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 1108; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10041108
Received: 28 February 2018 / Revised: 29 March 2018 / Accepted: 6 April 2018 / Published: 8 April 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (20052 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are offered as a comprehensive strategy to guide and encourage sustainable development at multiple scales both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, through the development of indicators associated with each goal and sub-goal, the SDGs support the notion of monitoring,
[...] Read more.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are offered as a comprehensive strategy to guide and encourage sustainable development at multiple scales both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, through the development of indicators associated with each goal and sub-goal, the SDGs support the notion of monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management, underpinned by the aspirations of social justice, equity and transparency. As such, the ethical intention of the SDGs is well founded. However, possible conflicts and trade-offs between individual SDGs have received little attention. For example, SDGs relating to poverty (SDG 1), inequality (SDG 10), food security (SDG2), economic development (SDG 8) and life in water and on land (SDGs 14 and 15), are potentially competing in many circumstances. In a social–ecological context, policy support and formulation are increasingly adopting systems approaches, which analyse the complex interactions of system elements. Adopting such an approach in this work, the above SDGs are analysed for coastal Bangladesh. This demonstrates multiple potential trade-offs between the SDGs, including agricultural farming approaches in the light of poverty reduction, and between economic growth and environmental integrity as well as equity. To develop coherent and policy relevant socio-ecological strategies, appropriate decision frameworks need to be co-developed across the range of stakeholders and decision-makers. Integrated models have great potential to support such a process. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Structuring Ethical Interpretations of the Sustainable Development Goals—Concepts, Implications and Progress
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 829; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030829
Received: 31 December 2017 / Revised: 6 March 2018 / Accepted: 10 March 2018 / Published: 15 March 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (199 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), like the sustainable development (SD) concept itself, are open to multifaceted interpretations, and the same is true for their ethical implications. While SDG values are widely accepted as universal, the ethical structure of the SDGs is complex, with
[...] Read more.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), like the sustainable development (SD) concept itself, are open to multifaceted interpretations, and the same is true for their ethical implications. While SDG values are widely accepted as universal, the ethical structure of the SDGs is complex, with differing interpretations and ideas, e.g., on how to regard and value nature. This article is a conceptual attempt to clarify and structure ethical interpretations based on an environmental ethics framework consisting of two branches: anthropocentrism and biocentrism. The aim is to provide an overview of SDG positions and locate them in the wider field of environmental ethics, addressing the human–nature relationship as a recurring topic in the SDGs. Section 1 of this article presents environmental ethics and briefly discusses anthropocentrism and biocentrism. Section 2 outlines ethical similarities of SD and the SDGs and locates representative SDG interpretations within the environmental ethics framework. Section 3 summarizes findings and suggests a possibility of integrating biocentrism and anthropocentrism with regard to the further interpretation and discussion of SDG ethics. Insights from this article will aid researchers in adopting a better overview on ethical positions in the SDG debate. Full article
Open AccessArticle A Multi-Criteria Goal Programming Model to Analyze the Sustainable Goals of India
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 778; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030778
Received: 27 November 2017 / Revised: 26 February 2018 / Accepted: 9 March 2018 / Published: 12 March 2018
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Abstract
There is an ever-growing demand for sustainable development (SD) plans, in order to foster a country’s economic growth by implementing suitable policies and initiative programs for the development of the primary, the secondary and the tertiary sectors. We present a multi-criteria modeling approach
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There is an ever-growing demand for sustainable development (SD) plans, in order to foster a country’s economic growth by implementing suitable policies and initiative programs for the development of the primary, the secondary and the tertiary sectors. We present a multi-criteria modeling approach using the linear programming problem (LPP) framework for a simultaneous optimization of these three sectors. Furthermore, we develop a fuzzy goal programming (FGP) model that provides an optimal allocation of resources by achieving future goals on the gross domestic product (GDP), the electricity consumption (EC) and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Furthermore, a weighted model of FGP is presented to obtain varying solutions according to the priorities set by the decision-maker for achieving future goals of GDP growth, EC and GHG emissions. The presented models provide useful insight for decision-makers when implementing strategies across different sectors. As a model country, we chose India by the year 2030. A study of economic policies and sustainable development goals (SDGs) for India is finally carried out. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Back to the Future: The Potential of Intergenerational Justice for the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 427; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020427
Received: 12 December 2017 / Revised: 31 January 2018 / Accepted: 1 February 2018 / Published: 7 February 2018
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (1197 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The establishment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bolstered momentum to achieve a sustainable future. Undeniably, the welfare of future generations is a fundamental value of sustainable development since the publication of the Brundtland report. Nevertheless, SDGs and their targets are meagre
[...] Read more.
The establishment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bolstered momentum to achieve a sustainable future. Undeniably, the welfare of future generations is a fundamental value of sustainable development since the publication of the Brundtland report. Nevertheless, SDGs and their targets are meagre on intergenerational justice concerns. The 15-year target horizon of the SDGs might be beneficial for implementation reasons. However, such a short-term perspective is far from innocuous in justice terms. It jeopardises the establishment of long-term goals, which protect both present and future people. This article advocates for clearer stances on intergenerational justice. What type of distributive principles could and should dictate the present socio-economic development? Looking at intragenerational justice principles contained in SDGs does not provide a full answer since they express conflicting visions of what constitutes a fair development. Furthermore, a fair distribution of the development benefits and burdens among present and near future people does not necessarily guarantee the wellbeing of more distant generations. I propose an intergenerational sufficientarian perspective as a way of extending the beneficial impacts of SDGs to both close and distant future generations. Hopefully, it facilitates the translation of the SDGs into policies that promote fairer implementation strategies. Full article
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