The concept of sustainable development emerged during the 1970s along with recognition of the critical dependence of society upon the environment, as attention was increasingly drawn to an ongoing stream of ecological disasters and human tragedies. As reports such as the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth circulated, institutions such as the UN Environment Program and the series of UN conferences such as the 1992 Earth Summit emerged, highlighting the concept of sustainable development as "the framework for our efforts to achieve a higher quality of life for all people". This framework acknowledged that "economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components" which continues to inspire and challenge global and local leaders to adopt and integrate into their decision-making and programs.
In presenting his Encyclical, Laudato si', Pope Francis cited integral ecology as an approach to today's social and environmental challenges, recognizing that "everything is closely related". These challenges, he said, "call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis". Rather than separating problems into environmental and social boxes, he stressed that these represent one complex crisis. "Strategies for a solution," he pointed out, "demand an integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature".
The circular economy (CE) approach offers an environmentally healthy alternative to the linear economy and its negative impacts. CE builds from the concept of system feedback cycles as applied to recycling and reprocessing waste, energy and material streams in production, establishing an eco-efficient loop resulting in both business opportunities and socio-environmental benefits.
This approach, a contribution from the STEPS Centre, looks especially at the links between ecological health, poverty reduction and social justice, asking "who benefits" from technical and political initiatives to advance "development". Proposed solutions and approaches from the developed to the developing world may increase wealth for some yet deepen poverty and hardship for others. In these cases "sustainability" needs to be defined and framed with regard to the need to challenge the forms of power/knowledge which result in unsustainable impacts.
Socio-technical transitions refers to a interdisciplinary research platform focusing on both technological change as well as changes in consumer practices, infrastructure and business models. This approach uses a Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) identifying disruptions and struggles between green innovations (micro or niche level) and entrenched institutional systems (regime) within a broader (macro) cultural and socio-technical landscape.