How can we rethink questions of sustainability in such a way that enables positive, practical and integrated change in cities, communities and organisations?
The Circles of Sustainability initiative seeks to connect a rich and generalising theorisation of social sustainability to a series of practical engagements and projects. It responds to the emergence of the concept of ‘sustainability’ as a keyword of both academics and practitioners — which instantly means it is one of the most elusive terms in the public lexicon. At its base level, positive sustainability can be interpreted as the technical objective of minimising our ecological footprint while otherwise perpetuating current ways of life. Our approach instead takes on a much greater challenge. It asks, how can we think dynamically, dialectically, and practically about social practice in the context of the contradictory complications facing our social life today? The social is thus treated as a complex series of relations that operate through four integrated domains of ecology, economy, culture and the political. Originally developed in response to the reductive use of the Triple Bottom Line, more recently we have begun to connect with other conceptual frameworks, such as Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, and David Harvey’s theories of the cosmopolitan. This in turn has helped us to develop more precise statements, methods and instruments as to how the framework can be operationalised in practice.