New publication: What is our understanding of sustainability?

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October 21, 2016

Building Common Ground in Mental Models of Sustainability

Tobias Luthe and Michael von Kutzschenbach

Sustainability: The Journal of Record.October 2016, Vol. 9, No. 5: 247-254


Sustainability has become a leading societal concept of our time, though the term suffers from clichéd use and nor- mative character. Since public inclusion and participation are fundamental for the transition to a more sustainable society, a more constructive and motivational usage of the term should be achieved. The purpose of this article is to refocus on the origin and explanatory power of the underlying concept of sustainability and to refresh the transdisci- plinary dialogue with both the broader public and the academic community. Drawn from years of experimentations with different visualizations, the “sustainabuild” conceptual model is proposed as a means to spur public sustain- ability discourse.


The proposed visual sustainability concept offers an enriched conceptualization while simplifying complexity, focusing on key messages that extend beyond the established triple-bottom-line model. Specifically, these are: the importance of respecting cultural values, the role of technology, the need for participation, and the systemic relation with the established three pillars, known as society, economy, ecology, or people, planet, and profit. The sus- tainabuild concept intends to facilitate the development of a common ground for a more understandable, concrete, desirable, and stimulating vision of sustainability. This might help enable a wider societal participation in the transi- tion toward a more sustainable society. Further testing of the concept in the field is needed to evaluate its benefits.

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