The current economic system is an extremely well developed intelligent and intricate globalised process. It has been the backbone of our human development for centuries and the remedy to multiple human ills threatening our very physical existence. However, from standing tall on the shoulders of our predecessors, we can also call the globalised economy to have become the human organising pipe-lined process of hierarchical wealth-making the root cause of the multiple sustainability crisis we have at our hand in the turbulent beginning of the 30th century of the new millenia. The world economic system, whether you focus on its globalised, capitalistic, or neo-liberal features, has if not the most impact at least unbreakable ties to the environmental degradation due to the whole history wealth generation off the natural resources, to the societal illnesses such as inequality, migration, health and general wellbeing, and to lastly – to the very processes of economy itself creating a perpetual machinery of concurrent benefiters and disadvantaged. While governmental forms, economic models, cultural and knowledge paradigms have shifted, what has pertained is the human hunger for endless growth and the monetisation of all that exists. While we follow this certain path of development, we constantly strengthen the top hierarchy of this faulty world organising system—the economy as the undebatable source of human wellbeing. 

The overpowering vigor of the economic system trickles down even to the adapta of the very principle evoked to bring balance to the created chaos: sustainability. Sustainability emerged as an guiding ideology to exemplify the imbalance and the multiple threats created with the ever more efficient ways of the economy, especially in the intergenerational temporal scale. Despite the decades of effort, the seeming triumph of sustainability in being on the lips of the consumers, in the strategies of corporations, in the documents of the officers and in the books at schools, there has been little to limited impact and the global society wide cohesion and buy-in on sustainability is ever escaping us. While sustainability becomes a commonplace concept which gets, as it was meant to be, implemented in the nooks and crannies of societal processes a negotiation between the changes promoted by sustainability and the changes prohibited by the existing world system takes place. Per our observation, beit in the intergovernmental agendas, in national strategies, or local regulations, the negotiations seem to have resided to favour the latter—the processes or prohibited to change. The economic growth has become a taboo as it has obtusely and self-appointedly  taken the place of a sole source of human wellbeing. 

While the aforementioned documents and their implementation have become the watered down real-world totems of principle once seeking for harmony, the obscured hierarchy bowing to economic values is apparent in other paramount contexts and processes as well. While the critical take on the economy, in its current form, in its current processes, and in its current intent, as a source of unsustainability is an ideological taboo, it appears to be an intellectual one too. Knowledge creation, taken place in knowledge institutions such as universities and research institutes, could be paradoxically at the giving and receiving end of the issue at hand. At the time of the concurrent global crisis knowledge is seen as the motor most potentially solving the problems, while however forbidden to criticise a tabooed subject and depending on the fruits of the very processes it would need to criticise. Simultaneously, with its hindered production of critical knowledge it will only further street the views off of the real target of change by focusing on the subjects perhaps less relevant to sustainability, yet allowed to address. 

With some renewed freedom of the knowledge creation processes, beit by truly independent funding or by an liason free institution, there is an opportunity to create new data, a new reference pool, for the global academic world to utilise as grounds to stand on in further creating knowledge on a subject previously taboo. Similarly, in the commonplace context, a new verbiage, an almost anewed vocabulary, for the rhetoric of criticism to the real cause of unsustainability can be created and disseminated. And done strategically so that the ultimatum objections of the critical view on the current economic system being anti-humanistic, communistic or eco-totalitarian could be avoided in a civil manner. While no assurance of knowledge-to-language being the decisive element missing from the equation of turning the societal intent as a developmental direction from a dystopia of further environmental degradation, further societal inequality, further economic turbulence and divide into a sustainable utopia of content in self-regulated balance, but it can, at least, be seen as a retaliation to the power structures at being, utilising an equal weaponry.

This project is currently seeking funding.

Janne J. Salovaara has a PhD in Sustainability Science from the University of Helsinki, Finland.

His research tackles the disciplinary development and education and impact of sustainability science. He critically examines the transformation potential, aims and impacts of the global sustainability endeavours.


PhD, Sustainability Science

INAR / HELSUS at the University of Helsinki


Ph.D Student of Sustainability Science

DENVI / HELSUS at the University of Helsinki