Category Archives: Sustainable Development

Planetary Health: Taking sustainability to the next level

After being a professor of Sustainable Development for more than 18 years, I am proud to let you know that – as of today – I will hold the chair Planetary Health at Maastricht University.

For me, Planetary Health has always been the foundation of sustainable development. However, the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for planetary health. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (with corona as one of the latest examples), our current climate crises and the global decline of biodiversity. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the health of the planet on which we live.

It is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as is’. There has to be a positive, regenerative development in order to make the planet, and everything on it, healthy. If we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what the new chair Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

The dietary ecological footprint 

Food consumption is increasingly impacting the environment. Our results for China, together with previous findings, demonstrate that dietary patterns could contribute directly and significantly to the dietary Ecological Foot Print (EFP), and animal-based diets have greater environmental consequences in terms of land use than plant-based diets.

This study highlights again the dominant role of meat consumption, especially pork and seafood, in dietary patterns, suggesting that China has entered an era dominated by animal-based products. India, as another fast-developing country with the second-largest population, however, did not consume much meat, fish, or eggs. This resulted in a relatively lower environmental footprint for Indian people than for Chinese people. Although dietary choice is a personal matter, owing to the increasing environmental concern, individuals are motivated to change their dietary patterns. A transition to eating less meat would therefore reduce the negative environmental impacts. However, rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined fats and meats. This trend is especially significant in developing countries like China, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Graphical Abstract

In light of the generally continually increasing income, diversity dietary cultures, and dietary transitions, the impacts on environmental resources of meat consumption will be severe. Hence, incentives should focus on improving people’s awareness of sustainable dietary patterns. 

Read the full paper here: Su, B., Zhang, C., Martens, P. & Cao, X. (2022). A comparative study on the dietary ecological footprint in contemporary China. Science of the Total Environment, 851 (2), 158289.

Public awareness, lifestyle and low-carbon city transformation

Climate governance is not only an issue of emission reduction, but also a question of how to make people change their lifestyle of generating high carbon emissions. In our Chinese study, there are huge differences in citizens’ lifestyles, economic means, consumption habits, and awareness among different regions of the Western, central and Eastern parts of China due to unbalanced development.

Public understanding mainly relates a low-carbon city to a low-carbon life, and that here is a gap between low-carbon awareness and low-carbon behaviour. From the reviewed articles, we learned that while some citizens have knowledge of the conception of a low-carbon economy, it actually is rather difficult for them to change their behaviour as their low-carbon behaviour is passively affected by government, media and enterprises who advertise low-carbon products.

Then there are others who have been living a low-carbon life for many years, although they do not have any specific knowledge about the low-carbon concept. Improving the understanding of people’s motivation, concerns and cultural constraints as well as including aspects of reconciliation from the philosophical perspective might unify knowledge and action.

Education plays a vital role in improving people’s low-carbon awareness and changing traditional behaviours, which requires schools to provide more low-carbon knowledge to students and encourage them to engage already in an early age in low-carbon consumption habits.

Besides China, there are many other countries that are making an effort to reduce carbon emissions. For high-income European countries, such as the UK, Finland and the Netherlands, further behavioural changes in mobility patterns, housing or diet choices, which made up the largest contributions to household carbon footprints is most needed but also feasible. The aim of low-carbon city development is to create and put into practice city construction and social development models that will help to reduce carbon emissions under the premise of ensuring continuous improvements to the quality of life, whether it is economic development, consumption or transformation of lifestyle. When the different departments of cities attempt to cooperate and make rational use of natural resources and reduce carbon emissions, it will not only contribute to sustainable urban development but will also benefit individuals.

Read the full paper here: Wu, Y., Martens, P. & Krafft, T. (2022). Public Awareness, Lifestyle and Low-Carbon City Transformation in China: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability14(16), 10121.

Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education

The human-induced socio-ecological sustainability crises pose a severe threat to all levels of society, particularly the most vulnerable. In recognition of this, many of those within the higher education sector are focusing on sustainability through their research and innovation, teaching and learning and institutional footprints. However, institutional and policy barriers and external challenges have stymied structural change. In this paper, we present examples of trends, opportunities, and pitfalls for Higher education institutes (HEI) sustainability across five domains: (i) innovative approaches to climate change education (ii) transformative research agendas; (iii) climate change education through professional development; (iv) supporting academic advocacy; and (v) whole systems approach to campus greening. We argue that HEI endeavoring to become truly sustainable organizations must embody values consistent with social-ecological sustainability. Misalignments between espoused values and embodied practice within HEI undermine organizational legitimacy and inhibit the sector’s contribution to the public good.

Read the full paper here: Kelly O, Illingworth S, Butera F, Dawson V, White P, Blaise M, Martens P, Schuitema G, Huynen M, Bailey S and Cowman S (2022) Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education. Frontiers in Sustainability. 3:920375. doi: 10.3389/frsus.2022.920375

Attitudes Towards Marine Life in China

Human behavior towards the nonhuman world originates in human attitudes. Understanding human attitudes has therefore been recognized as pivotal to facilitate healthy interactions between the human and nonhuman world to deal with issues such as biodiversity loss, wildlife conservation, and animal welfare.

As marine life is under increasing pressure, growing scientific attention has been drawn to this area. This study investigates public attitudes in Chinese society towards marine life and determines the roles of basic human demographics and ethical ideology in shaping this attitude. An online survey was conducted in 22 mainland coastal cities based on a questionnaire regarding demographical information, the Ethical Position Questionnaire, environmental concern, as well as environment-related behavior (measured by the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP)) and an adapted marine life version of the Animal Attitude Scale.

Our results demonstrate that Chinese women are more concerned about marine life protection than men. Chinese citizens generally consider using marine life for food acceptable, but less acceptable for using their skin or fur. Ethical ideology is found to have no influence upon public attitudes towards using marine life for testing in medical experiments. We also found that some environment-related behaviors, such as beach visits, NGO membership/donations, and transportation preferences, were predictors of attitudes toward marine life and marine life usage. Given that this study copes with marine life in a broad sense, future projects are encouraged to pay attention to public attitudes towards specific marine species, such as sharks and dolphins, since few such studies have been performed in the Chinese context.

Read the full papers here:

Chen, M., & Martens, P. (2022). Ethical Ideology and Public Attitudes Towards Marine Life in China, Society & Animals. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/15685306-bja10090

Chen, M. & Martens, P. (2022). Environmental Concern and Public Attitudes Toward Marine Life in Coastal China.  Anthrozoös, doi: 10.1080/08927936.2022.2101247

Sustainable Development Matters for Animals Too

This document contains an open letter, also published as a Commentary in the inaugural issue of CABI One Health, followed by a list of authors and other signatories (I am not an author of this text, but did sign it). Researchers and other experts in relevant fields are welcome to add your signature via this form. The list below will be periodically updated to reflect new signatures. If you have questions, comments, or media inquiries about this open letter, you can write to animalsandSDGs@gmail.com.

Animals matter for sustainable development, and sustainable development matters for animals. As the One Health framework reminds us, human, non-human, and environmental health are linked (Zinsstag, 2020), and many experts agree that every Sustainable Development Goal interacts with animals in some way (e.g. Keeling et al., 2019).  

Yet animal welfare – that is, the mental and physical state of animals – remains neglected in sustainable development governance – that is, the goals and policies that governments are pursuing to promote sustainable development. For example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprises 17 goals and 169 targets on topics ranging from hunger and poverty to peace and justice (United Nations, 2015). But while several of these targets focus on conservation of biodiversity, species, and habitats, none references animal welfare.  

In June 2022, governments will convene for the UN Stockholm+50 Conference, which marks 50 years of international decision making on environmental issues. At this conference, governments have an opportunity to recognize the intrinsic value of animal welfare and the links between animal welfare and sustainable development, and to aspire to harm animals less and benefit them more as part of sustainable development governance. We call on governments to take these steps for the sake of human and non-human animals alike.

Animals matter for sustainable development. While its origins remain uncertain, COVID-19 has reminded us that industries like industrial animal agriculture and the wildlife trade not only harm and kill many animals per year but also contribute to global health and environmental threats that imperil us all (Roe et al., 2020).

For example, industrial animal agriculture keeps domesticated animals in cramped conditions and administers antibiotics to stimulate growth and suppress disease, contributing to infectious disease emergence and antibiotic resistance (Silbergeld et al., 2008; Roe et al., 2020). Animal agriculture is also a leading contributor to climate change, and it generally consumes much more land and water and produces much more waste and pollution than plant-based alternatives (Poore and Nemecek, 2018).   

Similarly, the wildlife trade often keeps non-domesticated animals in high densities, either by capturing them from the wild or by raising them in captivity. This practice again contributes to infectious disease emergence (Karesh et al., 2005). Many methods of capturing animals also damage the environment; for instance, industrial fishing contributes to biodiversity loss, seabed damage, and plastic pollution in aquatic ecosystems, among other harms (Pusceddu et al., 2014; Thushari and Senevirathna, 2020).  

Sustainable development matters for animals. Scientists increasingly accept that many animals are sentient (e.g. Low et al., 2012; Birch et al., 2021), and ethicists increasingly accept that sentient beings matter for their own sakes (e.g. Regan, 1995; Singer, 1995). It follows that humans should consider the interests of many animals when deciding how to treat them.  

The stakes for animals in international environmental policy are high. Industrial animal agriculture and the wildlife trade not only harm and kill hundreds of billions of non-humans per year directly. They also harm and kill countless non-humans indirectly, by increasing disease outbreaks like bird flu and COVID-19, extreme weather events like fires and floods, and social and economic disruptions like lockdowns and supply-chain breakdowns that increase the risk of human violence and neglect towards non-humans.  

More generally, environmental changes like climate change, ocean acidification, and air, water, and land pollution are not only reducing biodiversity but also harming and killing countless animals by making it impossible for them to breathe, eat, drink, or otherwise survive. Some mitigation and adaptation strategies – ranging from the intensification of meat production systems to the construction of cities and transportation systems without appropriate safeguards – risk harming and killing animals unnecessarily as well. 

These links between human, non-human, and environmental health all matter for sustainable development governance. Humans have a responsibility to consider the interests of everyone impacted by human activity. In particular, humans should harm animals less and benefit them more as part of sustainable development governance, for instance by reducing exploitation of animals as part of pandemic and climate change mitigation efforts and by increasing assistance for animals as part of adaptation efforts (Sebo, 2022).  

Fortunately, governments are making progress. For example, in 2020, several UN bodies established the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) to provide guidance on ‘issues raised by the interface of human, animal and ecosystem health’ (FAO et al., 2021). And in 2022, Environment Ministers at the fifth UN Environment Assembly requested the UN Environment Programme to produce a report to improve our understanding of the nexus between animal welfare, the environment, and sustainable development (UNEA, 2022).

Fifty years after the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, governments have the opportunity to build on this progress. They can:

  • Recognize the intrinsic value of animal welfare and the relationship between animal welfare and sustainable development in Stockholm+50 outcome documents and subsequent international sustainable development outcome documents.
  • Strengthen and broaden the One Health activities of the OHHLEP and other relevant entities to better reflect the value of improving animal health and welfare not only for the sake of humans but also for the sake of the animals themselves, as well as consider animal health and welfare in the impact assessments that shape policy decisions.
  • Support policies that benefit humans and non-humans alike, including informational policies that educate the public about human, animal, and environmental health and well-being; financial and regulatory policies that incentivize co-beneficial practices; and just transition policies that support vulnerable populations.

We call on governments to start including animal welfare in sustainable development governance now, towards a healthier, more resilient, and more sustainable world for all.

Organizations, learning, and sustainability

Effects of climate change are being observed at an increasingly alarming rate across the world. Each year we see more severe flooding, droughts, bushfires and heatwaves, and recent studies show that unless we change our current practices these events will continue to worsen. Finding meaningful solutions to sustainability challenges requires companies and other actors to broaden their thinking, go beyond organizational boundaries and engage more with their stakeholders. However, broadening organizational perspectives and collaborating with diverse stakeholders involves inherent political and process-related tensions stemming from a resistance to change, competing motivations, lack of trust, and disciplinary-specific language.

Current research has focused on disciplinary-specific approaches to learning for sustainability. Our review aligns with calls from prior research for cross-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches to sustainability. It offers a deepened understanding of the challenges organizations and multi-stakeholder initiatives face when learning for sustainability, including entrenched power relations, and traditional decision-making and value structures. We introduce ‘reflexive complicity’ as a conceptual lens for understanding the slow progress we see in societal responses to sustainability challenges. We argue that in order to overcome these challenges and realize meaningful sustainability outcomes, more critical reflexive learning is needed on what motivates engagement with sustainability from academia and practice. Shifting how we motivate business and management research on learning for sustainability, in a way that prioritizes sustainability outcomes over firm performance, could allow for more engaged and transdisciplinary research collaborations and bring us a step closer to understanding how to embed critical reflexive learning processes into businesses. Similarly, breaking patterns of reflexive complicity from key actors in businesses could also see a shift toward more radical and long-term responses to sustainability in practice.

Read the full paper here: Feeney, M., Grohnert, T., Gijselaers, W. & Martens, P. (2022). Organizations, learning, and sustainability: a cross-disciplinary review and research agenda. Journal of Business Ethics, 364.

Human behaviour in relation to waste management

In recent years, the research on human behaviour in relation to waste management has increased at an exponential rate. At the same time, the expanding academic literature on this topic makes it more difficult to understand the main areas of interest, the leading institutions and authors, the possible interconnections among different disciplines, and the gaps. The paper below maps knowledge domain on recycling behaviour through bibliometric analysis and text mining in order to identify current trends, research networks and hot topics. 2061 articles between 1975 and 2020 from three different databases are examined with an interdisciplinary approach. The findings reveal that 60% of papers have been published between 2015 and 2020, and this topic is of global interest. Leading countries are mainly located in Europe, North America and Commonwealth; however, China and Malaysia are also assuming a driving role.

Bibliometrics and text mining provide the intellectual configuration of the knowledge on recycling behaviour; co-word analysis individuates conceptual sub-domains in food waste, determinants of recycling behaviour, waste management system, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), higher-level education, plastic bags, and local government. Overall, waste management and related human behaviour represent a universal challenge requiring a structured and interdisciplinary approach at all levels (individual, institutions, industry, academia). Lastly, this paper offers some suggestions for future research such as smart city design, sensor network system, consumer responsibilisation, the adoption of a more comprehensive view of the areas of investigation through the holistic analysis of all stakeholders.

Read the full paper here: Alessandro Concari, Gerjo Kok & Pim Martens. (2022). Recycling behaviour: Mapping knowledge domain through bibliometrics and text mining. Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 303, 114160.

The earth is running away from us

Fireplace Talk on Environmental Policy and Regulation

The atmosphere is warming and the climate is changing with each passing year. One million of the eight million species on the planet are at risk of being lost. Forests and oceans are being polluted and destroyed. However  ‘animals’, ‘nature’ and ‘sustainability’ are not often mentioned together in Environmental Policies and Regulations. The reason is likely to be found in the fact that the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for animal welfare and concerns for nature.

For example, The European Commission speaks about protecting Europe’s natural capital and resources. However, we also need to acknowledge the value of nature for its own sake, instead as a mere means for human flourishing. Although we as humans may be privileged in our capacity to respect autonomy and flourishing, the autonomy and flourishing that we must respect is not limited to humans. Moreover, protecting Europe’s nature for it’s own sake is perfectly compatible with human flourishing. Perhaps it is even true that in the long term we will show incapable of protecting nature as a resource for human wellbeing, without at the same time recognizing nature’s intrinsic value.

This is the third event in the Fireplace Talks on the 30th Anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, organized by UM Campus Brussels on 12th January 2022 from 18.30-19.30 (online). Our guest speakers for the talk are Maastricht University Professor Dr. Pim Martens, and the Executive Director of the Greenpeace European Unit, Dr. Jorgo Riss.  Register here.

KNAW commissie Planetary Health

Vereerd lid te zijn van de KNAW commissie Planetary Health die gaat inventariseren welke wetenschappelijke kennis er nodig is op het gebied van planetary health en welke prioriteiten voor kennisontwikkeling er liggen voor Nederland.

Planetary health is de interdisciplinaire benadering van het verband tussen de gezondheid en welzijn van mens en dier en de ‘gezondheid’ van de aarde. Het gaat daarbij om klimaatverandering en verlies van biodiversiteit maar bijvoorbeeld ook om grootschalige milieuvervuiling, ontbossing, erosie en andere door de mens veroorzaakte veranderingen die gezondheidsrisico’s met zich meebrengen. Die risico’s zijn onder meer infectieziekten, problemen met voedsel- en drinkwatervoorziening, migratie en conflict en mentale gezondheid.

Voor meer informatie zie KNAW website

English

Honored to be a member of the KNAW (The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) Planetary Health committee, which will inventorize the scientific knowledge needed in the field of planetary health and the priorities for knowledge development for the Netherlands.

Planetary health is the interdisciplinary approach to the link between the health and well-being of human and non-human animals and the ‘health’ of the earth. This concerns climate change and loss of biodiversity, but also, for example, large-scale environmental pollution, deforestation, erosion and other man-made changes that entail health risks. Those risks include infectious diseases, problems with food and drinking water supplies, migration and conflict, and mental health.

For more information see KNAW website