Human scale sustainable development: Where Max-Neef’s fundamental human needs meet sustainability

Gibrán Vita*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


The human scale development (HSD) approach focuses on directly satisfying fundamental human needs, rather than using material proxies such as income or living standards. This chapter expands on the framework of HSD by incorporating an environmental sustainability dimension and broadening its scope. The concept of ‘eco-efficient satisfiers’ is visualised through expanded system boundaries and connected to concepts such as life cycle thinking, systems thinking, socio-economic metabolism and the theory of capitals. This updated version of HSD is referred to as ‘human scale sustainable development’ (HSSD), which evaluates the role of socio-economic metabolism in need satisfaction, based on how development paradigms use, transform, and distribute natural, social, and cultural capitals. The goal is to use HSD to influence wider sustainability discussions and provide a framework for achieving sustainable well-being for all within planetary boundaries. The chapter also explores ways to operationalise HSSD, including monitoring its effectiveness, integrating it into decision-making and democracy, and considering its potential consequences. Overall, HSSD has the potential to uncover cross-cutting solutions and its benefits outweigh the potential risks, but tensions may arise between individual freedom and implementing this approach in capitalist societies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Ecological Economics and Development
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Reflections on the Thought of Manfred Max-Neef
EditorsLuis Valenzuela, María del Valle Barrera
PublisherTaylor and Francis AS
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-38114-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-46326-1, 978-1-032-46323-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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