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Professor Mohan Munasinghe outlined the first ideas about sustainomics from 1990 onwards, culminating in a formal paper presented at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which set out key elements of the framework. The aim was a more holistic and practical synthesis that would help to make development more sustainable. The neologism "sustainomics" was coined to project a more neutral image by focusing attention on sustainable development, and avoiding any disciplinary bias or hegemony. Sustainomics also seeks to balance people-oriented Southern Hemisphere priorities including promotion of development, consumption and growth, poverty alleviation, and equity, with environment-oriented Northern Hemisphere concerns about issues like natural resource depletion, pollution, the unsustainability of growth, and population increase. A decade or more of experience in further developing and practically applying the sustainomics framework in the field, was described in aclassic paper (IJSD 2002) presented at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, the approach has been cited and used in the work of many world bodies (e.g., ADB, CSD, EC, OECD, UNDP, UNEP, World Bank, etc.), governments (e.g., Brazil, Canada, China, Netherlands , Sri Lanka , UK , etc.), and individual researchers.

Sustainomics is defined as "a transdisciplinary, integrative, comprehensive, balanced, heuristic and practical framework for making development more sustainable." Unlike other traditional disciplines, it focuses exclusively on sustainable development. Thus, the main principle of the framework seeks to make ongoing and future development efforts more sustainable in a practical way, as a first step towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development. Other key principles stress: (a) balanced and consistent consideration of the three dimensions of the sustainable development triangle (social, economic and environmental); (b) better integration by transcending conventional boundaries imposed by discipline, space, time, stakeholder viewpoints, and operational needs; and (c) practical application of innovative methods and tools throughout the full cycle from data gathering to policy implementation and feedback. In brief, Sustainomics is an innovative transdisciplinary framework (or transdiscipline), based on a holistic set of key principles, theories and methods. It facilitates sound research and decision making, drawing on many other scientific approaches and techniques involving the natural and social sciences, engineering and humanities -- because no single traditional discipline can cover the vast scope and complexity of SD issues. 

Sustainable development is broadly described as "a process for improving the range of opportunities that will enable individual human beings and communities to achieve their aspirations and full potential over a sustained period of time, while maintaining the resilience of economic, social and environmental systems". Adapting this general concept, a more focused and practical approach towards making development more sustainable seeks "continuing improvements in the present quality of life at a lower intensity of resource use, thereby leaving behind for future generations an undiminished stock of productive assets (i.e., manufactured, natural and social capital) that will enhance opportunities for improving their quality of life".

Summary of basic principles and methods of Sustainomics

The sustainomics framework draws on the following basic principles and methods.

(a) Making development more sustainable (MDMS) with empowerment, action and foresight

The step-by-step approach of “making development more sustainable” (MDMS) becomes the prime objective, while sustainable development is defined as a process (rather than an end point). Since the precise definition of sustainable development remains an elusive and perhaps unreachable goal, a less ambitious strategy that merely seeks to make development more sustainable does offer greater promise. Such a gradient-based method empowers us to address urgent priorities without delay, and it is more practical because many unsustainable activities are easier to recognize and eliminate. Although MDMS focuses on implementing short and medium term measures, we also follow a parallel track by continuing efforts to better define and achieve the long term goal of sustainable development. MDMS does not imply any limitation in scope (e.g., restricted time horizon or geographic area – see item (c) below). The approach also seeks to keep future options open and identify robust strategies which meet multiple contingencies and increase resilience.

(b) Harmonising the sustainable development triangle for balance and integration

Sustainable development requires balanced and integrated analysis from three main perspectives: social, economic and environmental. Each view corresponds to a domain (and system) that has its own distinct driving forces and objectives. The economy is geared towards improving human welfare, primarily through increases in the consumption of goods and services. The environmental domain focuses on protection of the integrity and resilience of ecological systems. The social domain emphasizes the enrichment of human relationships and achievement of individual and group aspirations. Interactions among domains are also important.

(c) Transcending conventional boundaries with innovation and fresh ideas

The analysis transcends conventional boundaries imposed by discipline, values, space, time, stakeholder viewpoints, and operationality. The scope is broadened and extended in all domains, to ensure a comprehensive view. Trans-disciplinary analysis must cover economics, social science and ecology, as well as many other disciplines. Unsustainable values like greed need to be replaced by more moral and ethical approaches. Spatial analysis must range from the global to the very local, while the time horizon may extend to decades or centuries. Participation of all stakeholders (including government, private sector and civil society) through inclusion, empowerment and consultation, is important. The analysis needs to encompass the full operational cycle.

(d) Full cycle application of integrative tools for practical implementation 

A variety of practical and novel tools and methods facilitate governance over the full cycle from initial data gathering to ultimate policy implementation and feedback. Full life cycle analysis and supply and value chain analyses of products, processes and systems are also emphasized. Sustainable consumption and production are promoted to build sustainable economies.

Two complementary approaches based on “optimality” and “durability” may be used to integrate and synthesize across economic, social and environmental domains, within an integrated assessment modeling framework. An issues-implementation transformation map (IITM) helps to translate issues in the environmental and social domains, into the conventional national economic planning and implementing mechanisms within line ministries and departments.

Restructuring the pattern of development to make economic growth more sustainable is explained through a “policy tunneling” model, especially useful in poor countries, where poverty alleviation will require continued increases in income and consumption. Other practical tools include the Action Impact Matrix (AIM), integrated national economic-environmental accounting (SEEA), sustainable development assessment (SDA), environmental valuation, extended cost-benefit analysis (CBA), multi-criteria analysis (MCA), integrated assessment models (IAMs), and so on. A range of sustainable development indicators help to measure progress and make choices at various levels of aggregation.

The Action Impact Matrix (AIM) process is the key link from initial data gathering to practical policy application and feedback. Critical sustainable development concerns are included in conventional national development strategy and goals in two main ways: an upward link where sustainable development issues are embedded in the macro-strategy of a country via the medium- to long-term development path; and a downward link where such issues are integrated into the national development strategy in the short- to medium-term, by carrying out sustainable development assessments (SDA) of micro-level projects and policies.


Most Comprehensive Book on Sustainable Development!!

To order, e-mail Mind@Mindlanka.org, or visit our web site www.Mindlanka.org.


This 650 page second edition is fully updated (and translated into Chinese). It provides a comprehensive, rigorous and practical framework for making development more sustainable by applying the innovative sustainomics methodology. The book is used in university courses worldwide, and applied in many countries. The author explains the key principles clearly, concisely and free of jargon, with mathematical and technical details given in annexes. He also illustrates the methodology using empirical case studies that are practical and policy-relevant over a wide range of time scales, countries, sectors, ecosystems and circumstances. The bibliography is extensive. The book will appeal to a broad audience, including students, researchers, lecturers, policy analysts and public and private decision makers, development practitioners, and concerned citizens.

Chapters include:

Author Introduction and Contents
1. Overview & Summary
2. Sustainomics Framework
3. Economics of the Environment
4. Environmental and Social Systems

5. Global Analytical Applications;
6. International Process Applications: Multi-Level, Multi-Stakeholder, Trans-Disciplinary Dialogues;
7. National Economywide Applications;
8. Mathematical Macro-Model Applications;
9. Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) Modeling Applications;
10. Energy Sector Applications;
11. Transport Sector Applications;
12. Water Resource Applications;
13. Ecological and Agricultural System Applications;
14. Resource Pricing Policy Applications;
15. Project Applications;
16. Local Applications: Hazards, Disasters and Urban Growth;




“It’s all here!  Sustainomics - everything you wanted to know about sustainable development. It’s all comprehensible, and the eminent author has provided helpful examples from around the world.”
Prof. Thomas Schelling,
2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics & Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Maryland, USA.

“This book is unique…comprehensive, concise and clear… brings together a wide range of skills... invaluable resource by a leading world authority on sustainable development. As an award winning researcher, his analysis is rigorous and well-argued. As a senior decision maker and manager with over 35 years of development experience, his advice is eminently practical. As a veteran professor with an enviable publications list, his arguments are lucid and convincing.”
Prof. Gustave Speth,
Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies," Yale Univ. & former Administrator, United Nations Development Program, NY,USA.

“An impressive presentation of policy-oriented research...effectively mobilizes a wide array of scientific theories, methods and tools for making development more sustainable. In a trans-disciplinary spirit, but with feet firmly on the ground and drawing on economic, ecological and social disciplines, the author presents well chosen and eminently practical case studies. These examples at levels ranging from the global to the local, convincingly demonstrate his approach.”
Prof. J.B. (Hans) Opschoor,
Rector, Institute of Social Studies, & Professor of Environmental Economics, Free University, 
Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

“Sustainomics is a big idea...it is a gift, and we should do our best to try to use it well. Munasinghe’s grasp is extraordinary. He provides wonderfully clear explanations and enlightening examples of actual development planning analyses... readers will leap with him from concept to application...  invaluable to understand how sustainable development really works, and how it can protect environmental, economic and social values.” 
Dr. R. Reibstein,
Centre for Energy & Environmental Studies, Boston University, USA.

“Munasinghe summarizes advances in theory and practice of the new analytical framework of sustainomics. Excellent and diverse case studies… well presented analytical tools, real-world applications, and superb bibliography. Author is a long-standing champion of sustainable development… reaching out to values and beliefs”.
Dr. Anand Seth,
Director, World Bank, Washington DC, USA.

Sustainomics Network

The Sustainomics Network was created to keep researchers and students interested in sustainable development, up to date on the latest developments. Please register below. Members are entitled to receive a copy of the book at a 80% discount. You will also receive information updates on sustainomics and Prof. Munasinghe's latest research publications. Finally, members will be able to consult him on relevant issues and research questions.
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