Sustainability and An Adequate Standard of Living

The objective scientific realities of our world paint a bleak picture, but can human behaviour and innovation face up to avoid the catastrophic trajectory? Asking ourselves how we can align our society away from tradeoffs and conflict towards balance between the social, economic and ecological is a principle of sustainability ! So let’s start with inspecting the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the philosophy of sustainability and an what is an adequate standard of living.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has some great starting points for our exploration on what is an adequate standard of living, some of which are important I have selected and summarised:

  • Article 11 to realize everyone to an adequate standard of living including adequate housing, food, clothing and continuous improvement of living conditions.
  • Article 12 to fully realize the assurance of medical treatment in the event of sickness.
  • Article 13 to fully realize free compulsory primary education along with a progression towards free secondary and tertiary education.
  • Article 15 to respect the freedom that allows scientific research and creative activity

All these articles are touching on our human rights along with the government’s obligation to recognize, realize and respect these rights and progress them into reality in society. In other words government departments have a duty to progressively realize the articles of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural rights. We can’t help to think that bringing these articles above into reality would certainly create a society which is more capable of providing an adequate standard of living. But how can we do this sustainably? In fact we more than likely can, but firstly we need to be sure on the basic principle and philosophy of sustainability.

The Basic Principle and Philosophy of Sustainability

The principle of sustainability touches on the balance between the economic, social and ecological goals of society so they are not in conflict of tradeoffs. Furthermore when these goals are in balance our society is aligned to recognize the moral imperative of indirect reciprocity, neatly summarised in the proverb:




“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”.




Moreover if we deconstruct this further using the Bruntland Report “Our Common Future” and its defining paragraph under the sub-heading ‘sustainable development’:




“Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits – not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities.”


We are lead towards two primary factors causing unsustainable consumption of ecological resources. Affluence and population:




“Sustainable global development requires that those who are more affluent adopt life-styles within the planet’s ecological means – in their use of energy, for example. Further, rapidly growing populations can increase the pressure on resources and slow any rise in living standards; thus sustainable development can only be pursued if population size and growth are in harmony with the changing productive potential of the ecosystem.”

Sustainability of the nested process of Adequate Standard of Living and Policy and Practice

An Adequate or Affluent Standard of Living?

Sustainability is about living within the current ecological means of our planetary resources which requires economies which react effectively to unsustainable practices which are causing inter-generational declines in standard of living, i.e. climate change. Granted the freedom of scientific and creative activity is essential to greater technological advances that support improved ecological productivity however most importantly is the need for a shift in human behaviour away from the market-capitalism belief that we have “unlimited, ever-changing needs dominated by self-expressiveness. That products and services can satisfy [these needs] in an endless variety of ways, and ways that change all the time, and consequently that economies have unlimited horizons” (JustAdamCurtis, 2017, 00:56:14).

The basis of adequate standard of living shouldn’t be considered as the right to an affluent lifestyle, rather humans don’t have unlimited ever-changing needs for material consumption dominated by self-expressiveness. Instead we have limited material needs and as a result we can be satisfied within societies which deliver our fundamental economic, social and cultural rights, sustainably for current and future generations.

Bibliography & References

Dominic Roser. (2023). Intergenerational Ethics. In Britannica.


European Environment Agency. (n.d.). Principle of sustainability. General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from


JustAdamCurtis. (2017, January, 3). The Century of the Self – Part 3: “There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads; He Must Be Destroyed.” [Video File]. YouTube.


United Nations. (1996). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


United Nations. (1987). Our Common Future.