Economic Sustainability

This week has us all on edge with the current election. In a few long excruciating days we should know who will be our president, senators, and representatives. I am not going to lie, it’s frustrating to watch our country so divisively divided in half. As a female climate scientist it is very difficult to watch what is currently happening to America. While there are more controversial topics I could explore, instead I will discuss one of the more prevalent aspects of why some people on the fence have voted for Trump…economic stability.

As most of you know I am in graduate school working on my MS in sustainability. While my focus is on sustainable farming, I am also learning about all the different aspects of sustainability. As many of you don’t know, while my first academic love is ecology, my second favorite is economics. One of my current classes has allowed me to explore this topic in depth to a degree that I haven’t been able to do in my academic career.

We recently took a midterm that consisted of five essay questions. One question in particular I am especially proud of, and was going to share this with you once the class was over, but decided it was more appropriate to share right now due to the misinformation being shared concerning the election and possible economic futures. I will not share the question or my grade on the essay, just know that I loved it before I even submitted it.

Also, to learn more about economic sustainability I encourage you to read :

  1. Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson
  2. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  3. Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty

For the record: This is a paper written by Aysha Ross for the Introduction to Sustainability class taught by Dr DeCaro.

“Economic sustainability is considered by many to be a vital part of achieving comprehensive sustainability (Mog 2011, Costanza et al 2017, UN 2015). The ability to maintain an economic system while steering environmental and social programs to achieve long term sustainability is essential. In order to properly understand how to achieve economic sustainability we must first understand what it means to be economically sustainable, then look at how this relates to social and environmental sustainability, and finally explore how all three need to work together in order to maintain our current social and political framework. 

Mog (2011) describes economic sustainability as being one of the Three Pillars of Sustainability, along with environmental, and social. When balanced together they provide a path to comprehensive sustainability, in other words sustainability that does not sacrifice one discipline for another. The UN (2015) discusses the need for economic growth while also juggling the need for equality, climate action, and the overall well-being of the citizens of the world. Costanza et al (2017) debates the need for a stable economy that also takes into consideration the need to protect the environment. In Prosperity Without Growth, Jackson (2009) combines these descriptions and defines economic sustainability as the need to maintain the current economy, and prevent collapse, while acknowledging and compensating for the fact that we have a finite amount of environmental resources, and striving for social equality. 

The current political climate often pits economic sustainability against both social and environmental, encouraging the general public to believe that economic growth cannot be maintained by placing restrictions on consumption and production and encouraging equality for underrepresented populations, even using fear based propaganda to encourage more people to believe this rhetoric (French 2019). Perhaps this is the case that they cannot coexist. Both Costanza et al (2017) and Jackson (2009) argue for a need to change the current model of constant economic growth. Jackson (2009) and Criado-Perez (2019) argue that in order to integrate social sustainability (unpaid care labor mainly performed by women and people of color) and environmental sustainability (finite ecological limits we continue to overreach every year) into the the economy we must either modify the current way we measure the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is how the world currently measures the size and growth rate of economies (Jackson 2009) , or completely scrap it in favor of a more comprehensive measure of what the economy represents. However, in order to facilitate such a drastic change our society as a whole, but mainly those who are wealthy and in power, needs to acknowledge that these “invisible” areas of social and environmental sustainability have real tangible value. 

While the ability to maintain a strong economy will be essential for maintaining comprehensive sustainability (Mog 2011, UN 2015) there are definitive changes that need to be made in regards to how the world measures a strong economy in order for this to happen. While I agree with Jackson (2009), Criado-Perez (2019), and Costanza et al (2017) that economic sustainability cannot be achieved without acknowledging that current social and environmental goods and services currently taken for granted need to have a definitive value placed on them, I do not believe that it can only be achieved by overhauling the GDP. In terms of social sustainability there are programs that have been studied, such as a minimum income, that ensures all citizens receive a base income regardless of employment status. These types of programs have been shown to increase high school graduation, second generation employment rate, and decrease health problems (Hoynes and Rothstein 2019). Minimum incomes could provide much needed support to unemployed/underemployed women and people of color, who represent the majority of unpaid labor workers (Criado-Perez 2019), while also equalizing minority groups who continuously fall below the poverty line. In terms of environmental sustainability, while increasing restrictions on current companies may present a decrease in economic growth in those sectors (Council of Economic Advisors 2017), increasing funding to “greener” development has been shown to boost the economy and increase job growth (Annandale et al 2004). 

Economic sustainability represents the need to maintain the current economy and prevent collapse. However, it needs to happen within the framework of also increasing environmental and social sustainability. While many feel that economic sustainability cannot be achieved within these terms. at least without a major economic recession or overhaul of the GDP, there have been programs that have shown otherwise. I feel that in order to truly achieve economic sustainability without these ramifications we must embrace these programs instead of clinging to outdated industries that are detrimental to our growth towards a sustainable future. “


  1. Annandale, D., Morrison‐Saunders, A., & Duxbury, L. (2004). Regional sustainability initiatives: the growth of green jobs in Australia. Local Environment, 9(1).
  2. Costanza, R., de Groot, R., Braat, L., Kubiszewski, I., Fioramonti, L., Sutton, P., Farber, S., & Grasso, M. (2017). Twenty years of ecosystem services: How far have we come and how far do we still need to go? Ecosystem Services. 28, 1-16.
  3. Council of Economic Advisors (2017, October 2). The Growth Potential of Deregulation. The White House.
  4. Criado-Perez, C. (2019). Invisible women : data bias in a world designed for men. Abrams Press.
  5. French, D. (2019, February 7). The Green New Deal Is Everything That’s Wrong with Progressive Environmentalism. The National Review.
  6. Hoynes, H.W. & Rothstein, J. (2019) Universal Basic Income in the US and Advanced Countries. National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, MA.
  7. Jackson, T. (2009). Prosperity without growth : economics for a finite planet. Earthscan. London.
  8. Mog, J. (2011). U of L Green Scene: What is sustainability? University of Louisville.
  9. United Nations (UN). (2015). Sustainable Development Goals.
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