Delivering sustainability therapy in sustainable development projects

Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen (2005). Delivering sustainability therapy in sustainable development projects. Journal of Environmental Management, 75(1) pp. 37–51.




This paper explores the apparent contradiction between the 'linearity' of most Sustainable Development projects, with time-bound and defined outputs achieved at a fixed cost, and an implied 'circularity' of the theory whereby there is no 'end'. Projects usually have clear parameters within which they are implemented, and the inclusion of elements such as the need for accountability, measurable impact and 'value for money' have grown in importance. It could be argued that we live in a 'projectified' and therefore linear world. The paper explores the potential contradiction between 'linearity' and 'circularity', and suggests that one way around this is to frame the project within a form of the Kolb Learning Cycle heuristic. This will facilitate a rationalisation from those implementing the sustainable development project as to why decisions are being made and for whom. If these questions are opened up to the project stakeholders, including beneficiaries, then the Kolb cycle could encourage learning and understanding by all involved. It could also provide Sustainability Therapy to those trapped in processes, which they find orthogonal to their own perceptions. It is suggested that such learning, therapy and reflective practice should be a valid output of the sustainable development project, although typically the focus is only upon the final outputs and how they feed into policy. Ironically funders would be well advised to take a broader perspective in order to achieve true 'value for money' within such projects, even if learning is not an easily measurable or tangible outcome. These points are explored within the context of the wider literature and experience with a sustainable development project undertaken in Malta.

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