A discourse-analytical perspective on sustainability assessment: interpreting sustainable development in practice

J.J.A. Hugé*, Tom Waas, Farid Dahdouh-Guebas, Nico Koedam, Thomas Block

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Sustainable development is a ubiquitously used concept in public decision-making: it refers to an ideal vision of global society where human development and environmental quality go hand in hand. Logically, any decision-supporting process aiming at facilitating and steering society toward a sustainable future then seems desirable. Assessing the sustainability of policy decisions is, however, influenced by what sustainable development is believed to entail, as different discourses coexist under the umbrella of the sustainable development meta-discourse. This paper proposes a typology of sustainable development discourses, and, subsequently, applies a discourse-analytical lens on two practical cases of sustainability assessment in different institutional and geographical contexts (in Belgium and in Benin). The results indicate that sustainability assessments tend to be influenced mainly by the consensual ‘sustainable development as integration’ discourse, while also providing a forum for dialogue between different discourses. The results shed light on context-specific discursive and institutional dynamics for the development and application of sustainability assessment. Acknowledging these dynamics as well as sustainable development’s inherent interpretational limits can lead to an improved use of sustainable development as a decision-guiding strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-198
Number of pages12
JournalSustainability Science
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • discourse analysis
  • sustainability assessment


Dive into the research topics of 'A discourse-analytical perspective on sustainability assessment: interpreting sustainable development in practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this