Embedding animals within a definition of sustainability

Matt Drury*, Janet Fuller, John Hoeks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Current definitions of sustainability and sustainable development are problematic. They reinforce the dominant capitalist paradigm of economic growth as a goal—a system which has contributed in no uncertain terms to the current state of the planet—and they exclude animals as moral entities. We propose that sustainability is primarily an ethical issue which connects people, the planet on which we live, and the animals and other organisms which inhabit it. Our definition of sustainability states that in all decisions and actions on any scale, from the individual to the institutional, we should minimise our immediate and future negative impact on humans, other animals, and the planet, while simultaneously maximising our positive impacts on these domains. We take an interdisciplinary approach in discussing trade-offs between these three broad interests, providing a rationale for adopting this more inclusive definition at every level of society. Our definition calls for a normative shift in discussions around sustainability, one of which is more inclusive of the animals and other organisms with which we share the planet. We believe that the paper forms a strong and coherent foundation for policy and communication about sustainability going forward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1925-1938
Number of pages14
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2023


  • Doughnut economics
  • Environmental ethics
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Positive and negative sustainability
  • Sentience studies
  • Systems thinking


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