Relating the concept of governance to the concept of sustainability requires
no less than reformulating the basics of democracy. It is clear that the past 20
years of neo-liberal economic globalization have eroded both the common good
and democracy. Reclaiming lost ground, therefore, is paramount for
disempowered communities and disenfranchised citizens. But this in itself will not be enough. The real issue is whether the common good, that is the sustainability of life, can be pursued through democratic forms of governance. While the word sustainable has been slapped onto everything from sustainable development to sustainable economic growth, sustainable communities to sustainable energy production, the theory of sustainability and what it means to the concept of (democratic) governance has hardly been discussed. Some might say that sustainability, like democracy, is a mere ideal toward which we strive, a journey more than a destination, a goal removed from politics.
But even if we accept that sustainability is an ideal, some clarity is urgently
needed. Our democratic institutions – governments, political parties, and the
media – are currently fixated on economic growth. What may have started with
great promise has been compromised, if not abandoned, because of the global
market ideology. The 'displacement of the political by the market' (J. Habermas)
raises the question of how democracy and sustainability can ever be revived.
We strongly feel that the concepts of democracy and sustainability are both
absolutely indispensable, and further that one cannot be realized without the other.
However, we also believe that the concept of democracy must be reformulated
based on commonly accepted principles, such as freedom, equity, justice, and
The more than 20 contributors to this publication come from a variety of
backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. But they are all motivated by a sense of citizenship that strives for the common good. The common good comprises social and ecological concerns of which economic concerns are only part. This
perception may be in contrast to the perceptions of governments and corporations. It is, however, the only way to reflect citizenship. As membership in a society and community (originally a city), citizenship implies rights and duties. A responsible citizen, therefore, is concerned with the functioning and welfare of the community, not only with economics.
Conceptually, it may be possible to describe governance for sustainability in
these terms. With the awareness of citizenship comes the realization of rights and duties towards the community. Rights are essential to protect individual freedom as much as social, democratic, or economic interests. They include the
fundamental right to participate in public decision making. Equally, duties are
essential to guarantee the functioning and welfare of the community. They include the fundamental duty to respect ecological boundaries. Without accepting such a duty, the community cannot be 'sustained'.