The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development


"The historical assumption that that green investment comes as a cost to the economy needs to be challenged. Destroying the natural resource base upon which economies thrive, and life depends, has never made for good economics. As the world struggles to recover from one of the worst economic crises in living memory we have an opportunity to promote inclusive and sustainable development based upon green growth, energy efficiency and the sustainable use of natural resources. Cents and Sustainability offers a coherent argument and a collection of evidence to show how prudent policies, market innovation and sheer common sense can lead to green development solutions that cost less, destroy less and benefit all. This message of this book is clear. Its time to act!."
Dr Noeleen Hezyer, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, and UN Executive Secretary of the Economic and and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific


“In 1987, Our Common Future offered the prospect of decoupling as the resolution between environment and development. Since then the debate has been dismal and confused. Is significant, profitable decoupling somehow impossible, as traditional economists might think, or not permissable to speak of as an incomplete answer, as some on the further green edge seem to believe. Neither. Cents and Sustainability offers abundant evidence that, supporting by appropriate policies and institutions, the technical ability exists for us to do much, much more to decouple human development from environmental degradation. The only negative is that this empowering work was not with us in the 1990s.”
Professor Stephen Dovers, Director, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

"Since the publication of the Brundtland Report, [Our Common Future] problems of unsustainable economic growth have become even more severe. Unless standards of living can be increased while sharply reducing environmental pressures, the world is headed for disaster. Fortunately, such decoupling is not only possible, as this book shows, it is almost always the most economic approach. Bad environmental policies are usually bad economic policies as well."
Professor Robert Repetto, UN Foundation Fellow, Professor for the Economics of Sustainable Development, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

"In these dangerous times of hype and spin about environment "versus" the economy, it is refreshing to get an update on what has proved to be one of the most important books of the modern era: Our Common Future, and its message of sustainable development. Quite simply, we can not flourish without both economic growth to help the poor to have a more equitable share of the amenities of living, and environmental sustainability, to ensure the ecological underpinnings of our economy--and lives!--are secure over the generations. Of course there are always trade-offs, but it is false to assert it is an either/or situation--species or jobs, wealth or forests etc. We can do well by doing good, and in fact must if the world is to be both sustainable and just. Cents and Sustainability is an important road map to achieve these complementary goals."
Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Stanford University, (Contributor to each IPCC Assessment), and Author of "Science as a Contact Sport"


"Cents and Sustainability helps move the debate beyond "growth versus the environment", focusing on the potential for dramatic increases in resource productivity. Now more than ever, realizing the vision of sustainable development is imperative to achieve a prosperous, just and ecologically viable common future."
Professor Eban Goodstein, Director of the Bard Centre for Environmental Policy, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson New York, and author of “The Trade-off Myth: Fact and Fiction about Jobs and the Environment”


“By attending to the detail set out in this book, more jobs and, in the long run, more "economic" growth can be expected. A Global Green New Deal is possible. The way forward is to decouple economic growth from environmental damage. There is sense in putting aside some cents for the future.”
Professor Mike Young, Executive Director, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide, founding member of The Wentworth Group

"Population growth and climate change, combined with our current approaches to doing business and managing water, are placing our livelihoods, our communities, and the environment at risk. Cents and Sustainability suggests concrete alternatives for managing both water and business in ways that will help sustain our communities long-term."
Cheryl Davis – San Francisco Water Utility Commission, and International Water Association

"In the years since Our Common Future was published, we have learned much more about how to achieve sustainable development while decoupling economic growth from environmental pressure. In Massachusetts, USA, companies have utilized forward-thinking approaches to production that reduce the use of toxic chemicals before costly safety measures or, worse, pollution control or remediation measures are required. Between 1990-2005, Massachusetts companies reduced their use of toxic chemicals by 40 per cent and onsite releases of toxic chemicals by 91 per cent. This was achieved without harming profits -- rather economic and worker health and safety benefits have exceeded costs. This book, Cents and Sustainability, is a wonderful compilation of similar examples of how addressing environmental pressures can be achieved in ways that represent a win-win for businesses, the global economy and society."
Pam Eliason, Senior Associate Director and Industry Research Program Manager of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute


"Our Common Future was a wake-up. The publication showed the real possibilities for economic growth and development, outlining the advantages of basing such development on policies that upkeep the environmental resource base and showing how much could be gained by not depleting them, as has largely been the case in the past. The book Cents and Sustainability is a welcome reminder of what can and should be done to integrate economic growth and environmental sustainability. It also is serving notice, reminding us of what needs to be done to achieve the necessary scale of decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures to secure the resources to sustain coming generations.
Professor Walter Leal (BSc, PhD, DSc, DL, DPhil, DLitt) Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development and Chairman, International Climate Change Information Programme (ICCIP), HAW Hamburg,Germany

  Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future 


The development of this book has been made possible through support from Purves Environmental Fund, Griffith University, Australian National University, and Curtin University of Technology.

Ranked 5th in the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership 'Top 40 books of 2010'.
"This book is an important addition to the 'beyond growth' literature. One of the crucial points is that while decoupling economic growth and environmental impact is both desirable and possible, it is not automatic; we must constantly create, incentivise and strengthen this sustainability holy grail."


Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressure

RRP: Hardback £24.99 (ISBN 9781844075294) from Routledge

Forewords by Dr Gro Brundtland, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, and Dr Kenneth G. Ruffing, an Introduction by Jim MacNeill, and a Welcome from the major sponosr of the work, Robert Purves.

1. Securing 'Our Common Future'

2. Achieving Economic Growth and Reducing Environmental Pressures

3. Factors that can Undermine or Even Block Efforts to Achieve Decoupling

4. Factors that affect Poorer Nations' Ability to Achieve Decoupling

5. Informing and Developing National Strategies for Decoupling

6. Responding to the Complexity of Climate Change

7. Decoupling Economic Growth from Greenhouse Gas Emissions

8. Decoupling Economic Growth from Loss of Biodiversity and the Deterioration of Natural Systems

9. Decoupling Economic Growth from Freshwater Extraction

10. Decoupling Economic Growth from Waste Production

11. Decoupling Economic Growth from Air Pollution

12. Reducing Air Pollution through Public Interest Litigation: The Delhi Pollution Case

The focus of this new book, Cents and Sustainability, is to respond to the call by Dr Gro Brundtland in the seminal book Our Common Future to achieve, 'a new era of economic growth - growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable'. With the 20th anniversary of Our Common Future in 2007, it is clearly time to re-examine this important work in a modern global context. Using the framework of ‘Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures’, Cents and Sustainability investigates a range of new evidence and research in order to develop a deeper understanding of how, and under what conditions, this 'forceful sustainable growth' is possible.

With an introduction by Dr Jim MacNeill (former Secretary General to the Brundtland Commission, and former Director, OECD Environment Directorate 1978 -1984), the book will carry forewords from Dr Gro Brundtland (former Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development), Dr Rajendra Pachauri (Chief, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and joint recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC), and Dr Kenneth Ruffing (former Deputy Director and Chief Economist of the OECD Environment Directorate 2000 - 2005). Beginning with a detailed explanation of decoupling theory, along with investigation into a range of issues and barriers to its achievement, the book then focuses on informing national strategies for decoupling. Then putting this into action the book focuses on five key areas of decoupling, namely greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, freshwater extraction, waste production, and air pollution, and in each case showing compelling evidence for significant cost effective reductions in environmental pressures. The book concludes with a detailed case study of the groundbreaking application of public interest litigation to combat air pollution in Delhi, India.

"I commend the team from The Natural Edge Project and their partners for undertaking to develop a response to 'Our Common Future' to mark its 20th anniversary. The focus of this new book, 'Cents and Sustainability', is to bring together significant evidence from the last 20 years to demonstrate that environmental and social sustainability and economic growth need not be incompatible but rather can reinforce each other. The book will cover a range of efforts, studies, policies and mechanisms designed to show how effective and proven strategies of achieving social and environmental sustainability are already helping economic growth."

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland

(Download Foreword)

“It gives me great pleasure to contribute this foreword to ‘Cents and Sustainability’ and support a response by our next generation to the seminal publication Our Common Future, following its recent 20th anniversary. The Natural Edge Project is to be commended for tackling this vitally important issue and highlighting where in the world already communities, regions and nations are creating solutions to this great challenge of our time.”
R. K. Pachauri, Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), accepting the
2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC

“The leitmotif of this book is how to decouple environmental pressures from economic growth while simultaneously making progress towards attaining the millennium development goals. It thus addresses a number of economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The book restates the case for reducing environmental pressures. Failure to do so will entail very high costs to ourselves and future generations; the technological means and the policy tools needed already exist and, in most cases, have been deployed in one country or another; finally, the costs of implementing a decoupling agenda are eminently affordable, amounting to only a few percentage points of future increases in GDP.”

 Dr. Kenneth G. Ruffing, formerly Deputy Director and Chief Economist of the OECD Environment Directorate from 2000 to 2005

(Download Foreword)

“It is not wise simply to hope that our decision makers will make the right choices, especially given the fact that there are still powerful vested interests who do not want to see a transition to sustainable development. In the end, it is up to each and every one of us to leave as positive a legacy as possible to future generations. Cents and Sustainability, with its inspiring world class success stories, our earlier 1987 report to the United Nations entitled Our Common Future, and free online education and training packages by The Natural Edge Project will help empower you to play your part in helping achieve a sustainable future.”

Jim MacNeill, O.C., Secretary General, World Commission on Environment and Development, and Chief Architect and lead author of Our Common Future (1987)

(Download Introduction)

"The members of the Natural Edge Project are representatives of Australia’s next generation of decision-makers and thought leaders. The Purves Environmental Fund is therefore delighted to support the work of this committed and talented team. Cents and Sustainability takes on the critical issue of how we can improve human welfare while not exceeding the limits of the natural world we inhabit. To quote Ray Anderson, 'How to do well and do good at the same time is the challenge'. This book addresses that challenge. As with the Natural Edge’s previous publication, The Natural Advantage of Nations, Cents and Sustainability is a tremendous achievement and a timely and important contribution. I commend it as essential reading for anyone who is concerned with long-term sustainability and prosperity."
Robert Purves, Chair, Purves Environmental Fund 

Citation: Smith, M., Hargroves, K., and Desha, C. (2010) Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures, The Natural Edge Project, Earthscan, London.

Forewords by Dr Gro Brundtland, Dr Rajendra Pachauri and Dr Kenneth G. Ruffing
Introductions by Jim MacNeill and Rob Purves
Preface and Acknowledgements

1 Securing ‘Our Common Future’
Are we destroying the world we are creating?
Understanding the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions
- The melting of sea ice
- The thawing of permafrosts
- The weakening of the capacity of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide

Entering a period of consequences
Dealing with unprecedented complexity

2 Achieving Economic Growth and Reducing Environmental Pressures
What is ‘decoupling’?
What level of decoupling is required?
How can we represent and interpret decoupling trends?
What potential is there for relative and absolute decoupling?
How does decoupling directly contribute to GDP?
Understanding and reducing the risk of negative rebound effects from decoupling activities

3 Factors that can Undermine or Even Block Efforts to Achieve Decoupling
The key role of government to underpin and accelerate efforts to achieve decoupling
Responding to the fear of loss of profitability
Addressing fears about losing international competitiveness
Responding to the fear of job losses
Responding to fears of skills shortages and gaps

4 Factors that Affect Poorer Nations’ Ability to Achieve Decoupling
Escaping the ‘poverty trap’
Improving the effectiveness of foreign development aid to reduce poverty
Addressing economic disparity: the inequality predicament
Stabilizing population growth
Spurring economic growth by reducing environmental pressures
Bringing it together – Millennium Villages

5 Informing and Developing National Strategies for Decoupling
What is needed to underpin a national decoupling agenda?
Element 1: Past appreciation – an historical perspective
Element 2: Ecosystem resilience – assessing and monitoring the resilience of natural systems
Element 3: Performance evaluation – appropriate decoupling indicators
Element 4: Decoupling requirements – determining the required scale and speed of decoupling
Element 5: Cost of inaction – investigating the costs of inaction on decoupling efforts
Element 6: Costs of action – estimating the costs of action on decoupling efforts
Element 7: Economic resilience – investigating and understanding the resilience of the economy
Element 8: International cooperation – identifying the potential for synergy with global efforts
Element 9: Assessing and accounting for the national security benefits of decoupling

6 Responding to the Complexity of Climate Change

The overarching moral, economic, scientific and technological challenge of our age
Facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities
- Unprecedented speed
- Unprecedented scale
- Unprecedented uncertainty
- Unprecedented need for education
- Unprecedented need for collaboration
- Unprecedented need for cooperation
- Unprecedented interconnectivity

Signs of change in the international business community
Signs of change within regulations and policies
- Climate neutral nations and cities
- 2020 Greenhouse gas reductions regional targets
- Energy efficiency targets
- Energy standards for buildings
- Energy-efficient products and services
- Disconnecting electricity utility profits from energy sales
- Differential tariffs and smart meters
- Increasing the role of renewable energy
- Increasing the use of feed-in tariffs
- Reducing private vehicle transport greenhouse gas emissions
- Improving freight and rail transport
- Reducing traffic congestion and encouraging modal shifts
- Reducing growth in air transport greenhouse gas emissions
- Reducing oil dependence

7 Decoupling Economic Growth from Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Appreciating the cost of inaction on climate change
Estimating the cost of action on climate change
1 Assumptions about the availability of non-carbon backstop fuels
2 Assumptions about the efficiency of economic responses
3 Assumptions about energy and product substitution
4 Assumptions about involvement in joint implementation
5 Assumptions about revenue recycling
6 Assumptions about air pollution damages
7 Assumptions about climate change damages

Support for ambitious commitments to emissions reduction targets
A framework for decoupling greenhouse gas emissions – stabilization trajectories

8 Decoupling Economic Growth from Loss of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Resilience
The complex challenge of reducing loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience
Economic risks and benefits associated with biodiversity and natural systems
Responding to the challenge of deforestation
Responding to the challenge of the loss of topsoil and desertification
Responding to the challenge of the depletion of global fisheries
Responding to the challenge of the growth of invasive species and the loss of wildlife

9 Decoupling Economic Growth from Freshwater Extraction
The complex challenge of freshwater extraction and use
Economic benefits associated with reducing freshwater consumption
Decoupling economic growth from freshwater extraction for grazing
Decoupling economic growth from freshwater extraction for cropping
1 Appropriate selection and rotation of crop species
2 Sub-surface drip irrigation and irrigation scheduling
3 Advanced deficit irrigation strategies
4 Rainwater harvesting
5 Reusing urban stormwater and recycled water for peri-urban agriculture

Decoupling urban economic growth from freshwater use in industry
Decoupling economic growth from freshwater use in cities

10 Decoupling Economic Growth from Waste Production
The complex challenge of addressing waste production
Economic drivers for decoupling waste production from economic growth
Decoupling economic growth from waste production – by rethinking design
Decoupling economic growth from waste production – by reuse and remanufacturing
Decoupling economic growth from waste production – by recycling

11 Decoupling Economic Growth from Air Pollution
The complex challenge of air pollution
Economic benefits associated with reducing air pollution
Decoupling economic growth from sulphur dioxide emissions
Decoupling economic growth from nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone and photochemical smog
Decoupling economic growth from lead pollution
Decoupling economic growth from particulate pollution (PM2.5–PM10)

12 Reducing Air Pollution through Public Interest Litigation: The Delhi Pollution Case
The role of the super-administrator
Environmental jurisprudence in India
Public interest litigation in India
M. C. Mehta v. Union of India (Vehicular Pollution Case)
- Air pollution in Delhi
- Combating resistance to the court orders
- Environmental impact of the court orders

Critical analysis of judicial activism on environmental issues
- Division of power and the constitutional role of the judiciary
- Precedents and questions of stability and sustainability
- Strengthening bureaucracies

A caution on the use of a constitutional court in matters of public interest