Planetary demands: Redefining sustainable development and sustainable entrepreneurship

Harry Hummels*, Aikaterini Argyrou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WECD) provided a seminal definition of sustainable development, which has become the landmark for countless governments, businesses and civil society organizations to contribute to a sustainable world. And yet, it is precisely the nuanced approach of the WECD e focusing simultaneously on the protection of nature, the creation of economic welfare, and social inclusion that threatens the boundaries of the Earth system. Governments and en-terprises fail to respect the planetary boundaries. Hence, they compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Their focus on economic value creation for present generations ignores to a large extent the potential consequences for generations to come and creates a 'tragedy of the commons'. As a result, many enterprises unjustifiably picture themselves as contributing to sustainable development. This calls for a revised definition of sustainable development that allows for the pursuit of economic growth but requires compliance with the planetary boundaries. A potential way out of the tragedy is offered by sustainable entrepreneurship that promotes economic growth while intends to overcome sustainability related challenges through the creation and distribution of solutions. However, sustainable entrepreneurs and enterprises should be more explicit about their contribution to the transgression of the planetary boundaries along the lines of a more strictly defined concept of sustainable development. An example of a leading company is provided that operationalizes sustainable development in a way to not transgress these boundaries. (C) 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number123804
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Sustainable development
  • Sustainable entrepreneurship
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Externalities Brundtland Commission
  • Interface


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