The sustainability concept seeks to balance how present and future generations of humans meet their needs. But because nature is viewed only as a resource, sustainability fails to recognize that humans and other living beings depend on each other for their well-being. We therefore argue that true sustainability can only be achieved if the interdependent needs of all species of current and future generations are met, and propose calling this ‘multispecies sustainability’. We explore the concept through visualizations and scenarios, then consider how it might be applied through case studies involving bees and healthy green spaces.
The sustainability concept in its current form suffers from reductionism. The common interpretation of ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ fails to explicitly recognize their interdependence with needs of current and future non-human generations. Here, we argue that the focus of sustainability on human well-being – a purely utilitarian view of nature as a resource for humanity – limits its conceptual and analytical power, as well as real-world sustainability transformation efforts. We propose a broadened concept of ‘multispecies sustainability’ by acknowledging interdependent needs of multiple species’ current and future generations. We develop the concept in three steps: (1) discussing normative aspects, fundamental principles underlying the concept, and potential visual models, (2) showcasing radically diverging futures emerging from a scenario thought experiment based on the axes sustainable-unsustainable and multispeciesanthropocentric, and (3) exploring how multispecies sustainability can be applied to research and policy-making through two case studies (a multispecies stakeholder framework and the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative).
Social media summary
A new multispecies definition of sustainability recognizes that living beings and their wellbeing are interdependent.
Publication titleGlobal Sustainability
Department/SchoolSchool of Natural Sciences
PublisherCambridge University Press
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
Rights statement© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.