A Moving Target Concept? The Challenge of Defining Sustainability
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Sustainability and climate change
Sustainability is a complex and elusive concept to define. The malleability of the term has stretched the utility of the concept in practice which has led to significant confusion in how to apply the concept in practice. With the shifting meaning of sustainability, there is little understanding of how the mass public defines sustainability and if public perceptions are like those advocated at the elite level. This article explores how members of the American public define the concept of sustainability. Using data from the Natural Marketing Institute 2016 LOHAS survey, this study evaluates how 4,130 US survey respondents define sustainability through open-ended responses. The results reveal that there are several competing definitions used by the American public with none clearly matching or emulating existing elite-level definitions. There are a range of demographic characteristics that illuminate reasons for divergent conceptions of sustainability and demonstrate challenges for sustainability in practice.
Center for Social and Behavioral Research
Original Publication Date
DOI of published version
Mosier, Samantha L.; Ruxton, Megan M.; and Park, Baekkwan, "A Moving Target Concept? The Challenge of Defining Sustainability" (2022). Faculty Publications. 5309.