Environmental Policy is Social Policy – Social Policy is Environmental Policy

Environmental Policy is Social Policy – Social Policy is Environmental Policy: Examples from Agriculture, Nutrition, Forestry, Urban Planning, Care Work, Tourism, and Universities to Enhance Sustainability

Isidor Wallimann (editor)


This book argues that social and environmental policy should be treated as one and the same field, that both are but two aspects of the same coin – if sustainability is the goal. This paradigm shift is indicated, important, and timely to effectively move towards sustainability.


In general, social problems are dealt with in one “policy corner” and environmental problems in another. Rarely is social policy (at large) concerned with its impact on the environment or its connection with and relevance to environmental policy. Equally, environmental problems are generally not seen in conjunction with social policy, even though much environmental policy directly relates to health, nutrition, migration and other issues addressed by social policy. This book intends to correct the tendency to separate these very significant and large policy fields. Using examples from diverse academic and applied fields, it is shown how environmental policy can (and should) be thought of as social policy – and how social policy can (and should) simultaneously be seen as environmental policy. Tremendous benefits are to be expected.


The unity between environmental and social policy is significant, and to treat them as separate spheres, is highly problematic. Any separation comes at the cost of policy efficiency and at the expense of perverse effects. One policy domain may explicitly or implicitly counteract – or even outright “sabotage” – the other. Furthermore, to maintain them as the separate and uncoordinated policy fields they are today stands in the way of attaining social and environmental sustainability. It is even counterproductive to that goal. Sustainability – an often and highly acclaimed goal – would under these circumstances remain but rhetoric.  The case is made, then, that social and environmental problems and their policy fields should best be envisioned, conceived and practiced in conjunction with each other. Thus, they become parts of  one integrated policy field.


How the two policy fields implicitly or explicitly counteract each other must be studied in ways that transcend disciplines. For instance, funds to deal with social problems – social policy funds – often are derivatives of economic growth. The more quantitative economic growth the more funds are available. However, this mechanism may counteract efforts by environmental policy to contain negative effects on the environment caused by quantitative economic growth. The signals emitted by this funding mechanism are that social risks can only be tempered by sufficient economic growth – even though the resulting environmental risks to life may lead to social risks as a consequence. Therefore, new ways to fund social policy and to define economic wellbeing – or ways to prevent social problems – must be found. This will avoid perverse effects to environmental dimensions of sustainable living.


In other examples, inequality and poverty may lead (or even force) populations to interact with nature in such a way that, even though needs may be met in the short run, the depletion of nature resources will prohibit needs from being met in the long run. In other words, social justice and (in)equality – mediated by social policy – is strongly intertwined with environmental policy and foundations to sustainability.


In turn, also environmental policy should be analyzed for its consequences to social policy. Thus, the need to regulate human interaction with nature through environmental policy is in many instances directly connected to social risks, human survival, and to social and economic change. All of them are salient to social policy. Yet few efforts are under way to discern the social policy implications of environmental policy and to think and practice the two policy fields jointly. Many more examples could serve to show how social and environmental policy are intricately interwoven in content, both in regards to  particular problem cases and to the macro policy frames of which they are a part.


However, not only the two mentioned policy fields can greatly benefit from relating to each other in a trans-disciplinary manner. Most academic fields and disciplines can (and should) ask how “their” knowledge relates to issues of social and environmental sustainability. In so doing, they must look over the fence of their “narrow” discipline to become part of a trans-disciplinary effort among academic disciplines proper and in conjunction with environmental and social policy.


“Sustainability” can be thought of as a societal pattern of interaction with nature which assures a very long term output and distribution mode sufficient for all to live in dignity and in accord with the average longevity potential. From this vantage point, it is evident that many academic disciplines and both environmental and social policy are strongly intertwined once “sustainability” becomes their focus. Therefore, this book takes the position that “sustainability” can only be discussed, researched and planned for with a trans-disciplinary perspective and practice be it in environmental and social policy or in specific disciplines.


No doubt, looking at sustainability in such ways will influence how we think and converse about it. Moreover, understanding that sustainability cannot be attained without coordinating environmental and social policy will certainly lead to more holistic approaches in politics and policies. Finally, thinking of environmental policy as social policy – and its inverse – will lead to visions on how the two policy fields can be merged to become two aspects of a single field.


The spirit of this book is pro-active. Given the need to transform society toward sustainability, the question is not how additional damage to nature and society can be avoided or minimized. How to transform the status quo from its state of “sickness” to a state of “health”? (i.e. sustainability) is the question. This calls for a paradigmatic shift. To further rely on techniques like Environmental or Social Impact Assessments is no longer adequate, since such measures only aim to avoid additional harm and not to transform the status quo. In addition, they tend to focus but on the local or regional cases, and social and environmental criteria usually are not synthetically applied. In contrast, the new paradigm suggests that environmental and social policy be synthetically combined and that this trans-disciplinary act be complemented by other academic disciplines asking “what is our knowledge by which we contribute to moving (world)society towards sustainability?”.  Alternatively, academic disciplines can ask “what knowledge inhibits or obstructs attempts to move (world)society towards sustainability?” – “what knowledge contributes to environmental or social problems becoming an obstacle to reaching sustainability?”.


The case studies presented in this book illustrate what needs to become a wide spread and general approach in bringing disciplines and policy fields together around “sustainability” as a cross-sectional perspective. As an ensemble, the contributions included here show how this could be accomplished in academic and applied fields mentioned in the book’s title.


Of course, this book is just a beginning, and we should ask where we could go from here to further embed the paradigm shift suggested. Certainly, the examples given here will trigger our imagination as to how disciplines can transcend their boundaries and cooperate with others around the vision that a “sustainable world” can be achieved – that interdisciplinary knowledge and synthetically practiced environmental and social policy can make it happen. However, these contributions should be complemented by other examples of “good practice”. A multitude of problem settings should similarly be framed and analyzed from a trans-disciplinary and synthetic policy perspective. Possibly, a book series could be launched or journals with an environmental or social problem and policy focus could publish special issues for this purpose.


It is generally recognized that moving toward “sustainability” is bound to call for a sizable environmental and social policy effort, the “like” of which we may never have seen except for times of war. Should this be so, present policy must be scrutinized in preparation for it. Entire policy frames and their segments (like health care or water management) must be studied for their internal consistency and for the contradictory incentives and effects one policy frame may have on another. This has already been alluded to above for the case of environmental and social policy. To do so, we might get some guidance from the analysis of tax policy which in some countries is now being scrutinized for its perverse incentives and effects in terms of environmental and social policy. Ideally, tax policy should be structured such that it neither “sabotages” environmental or social goals nor the policies to realize them. In this vein, social and environmental policy, too, must be revisited.


Some contributions show how social and environmental policy and their indicators can be jointly applied in planning or environmental management. How such projects and processes are being monitored for their results over time does not get much attention. It seems obvious that such monitoring would also have to be conceived of and tested in practice. Finally, academic and movement professionals could make it their mission to insist that projects presently being planned do synthetically include environmental and social policy criteria.


The book starts with a section on agriculture, food production and forestry.  Its contributions show the importance of a synthetic, holistic approach to social and environmental policy from a more specific or from a general, more macro frame of analysis. Stu Shafer’s work belongs to the latter and combines insights from political economy, agriculture and nutrition. Using Marx’s view of society as being in a metabolic exchange with nature for food and other production, he shows how a rift has been introduced into this cycle by industrial society, and its capitalist version in particular. What is “by nature” a whole has in food production been divided up by various, dominantly linear processes. Grave consequences to nature and to the welfare of humans both as producers and consumers of food are the result. Shafer, then, reflects how social and environmental policy could symbiotically be thought and practiced to help repair the identified rift. In addition, he locates existing attempts in social movements, and elsewhere, that could launch the required paradigmatic shift to both repair the rift and enhance sustainability.


Also Geoffrey Evans and Chetana Mirle’s address a macro issue – that of meat production, global warming and social wellbeing. Their trans-disciplinary investigation integrates environmental sciences, agriculture and developmental economics. Where should meat be produced – and how much of it – in order to optimally reduce greenhouse gases, alleviate poverty and to conserve soil and vegetation is the question asked. Again, both environmental and social policy are synthetically combined and treated as two aspects of a single field. The same approach is followed by Kimberly E. Johnson in her, more specific case analysis of Trans Fatty Acids (TFAs) in foods. What, she asks, would be required to simultaneously eliminate detrimental health effects from TFAs in foods and to prevent environmental degradation and marginalized populations due to palm and seed oil production? Nutrition, food manufacturing, agriculture, ecology and developmental economics are the disciplines she draws on to formulate her answer in which it becomes apparent that social and environmental policy are most usefully applied in conjunction with each other.


Forest management knows of numerous examples to show that social policy can promote or (in its inadequacy) inhibit and block the realization of environmentally important policy goals. Equally, deficient environmental policy in forest management will generate social problems (mostly in the form of poverty). As they, in turn, exert pressure back on the remaining forest resources vicious cycles may result and perpetuate. Thus, it becomes obvious that social policy is intricately linked with and dependent on environmental policy and reverse. Such cycles can be broken by viewing social policy also as environmental policy and environmental policy as social policy. As a result, the contributions by Guy C. Robertson and that by Evisa Abolina and Valerie A. Luzadis critically focus on various forestry management systems that strive to integrate environmental and social policy dimensions. In so doing, they assess the quality of such management systems in view of their objectives to enhance or to assure forest sustainability.


Worldwide, the rapid trend to live in urban settings continues while in industrialized countries some eighty percent of the population already lives in urban agglomerations. As a result, any transformation to sustainability is bound to also focus on urban settings and their abusive and damaging use of resources. Urban planning and development has, therefore, been experimenting with building sustainable cities in which environmental and social criteria and goals have jointly been integrated into urban design, planning and development. Both Gary J. Coates and Matthias Drilling focus on examples in which building such cities has been the goal. Coates’ primarily looks at how social and environmental criteria have been synthetically used, how they have been operationalized, and on the outcomes that could so be realized. Drilling’s attention – using different examples – is also on the processes by which planners can successfully arrive at synthetically including environmental and social criteria.


Lee Liu investigates urban planning in China – the environmental Model Cities program. Whereas Coates and Drilling chose positive examples from Europe to show how social and environmental criteria were synthetically applied in sustainability enhancing ways, Liu shows the opposite. What happens, he asks, when “sustainable cities” are built on but narrow territorial and environmental criteria and dimensions? The new Model Cities appear to have resolved many environmental issues by differentiating and dividing urban activity into a narrowly defined “environmentally clean” space and another space. In the latter, “old” and socially and environmentally unsustainable patterns are continued. A holistic environmental and social policy approach in planning urban spaces and functions is not given, though some spaces – new Model Cities – show improvement along environmental criteria.


The German sustainable city example studied by Coates explicitly includes urban food production as one criterion in urban design and planning. Coates does not elaborate in detail why this should be so. Monika Jäggi, however, does. Choosing Toronto’s food policy as an example, she shows how both environmental and social policy objectives can synthetically be combined in and through urban agriculture. She elaborates on the various policy dimensions and on urban agriculture’s potential in transforming urban spaces towards sustainability.


In his discussion Drilling explores how the process of planning can be decisive in the degree to which environmental and social policy are synthetically included when building sustainable cities. Jeremy Levine also adopted this perspective. He studied the role environmental and social justice movements played in ascertaining that both environmental and social policy criteria are synthetically included in a Boston urban transit development case. Finally, it is to be noted that the urban examples presented here benefit from knowledge anchored in disciplines such as architecture, geography, sociology, public administration and planning,


None of the contributions in this book focusses on the very macro frame as does Lynn Duggan, who assumes that moving towards sustainability is a given – and a formidable challenge. She investigates what must be done on a very general social and economic level to enhance the necessary transformation we face. Thereby, she draws on knowledge from political economy, sociology and gender studies. For her, the sphere of consumption and work (paid work and unpaid care work) are in need of major corrections. Bringing about sustainability is for her not possible without reducing levels of consumption and moving care work from back to center stage. In so doing she demonstrates the need and utility in simultaneously employing both environmental and social policy if only to avoid these policy fields to have perverse effects onto each other.


Unlike Duggan, the contributions of Ross Klein and that of Valerie Carroll and Rhonda Janke investigate the extent to which social and environmental policy find synthetic application in a given industry – cruise travel and higher education. Klein looks at the problem from the vantage point of cruise destinations and asks how such destinations have integrated social and environmental policy when deciding on whether or not they wish to become – or remain – a cruise destination. He finds that the cruise line industry tends to oppose the simultaneous application of environmental and social policy criteria.  Cruise lines highlight the social policy benefits resulting from cruise dollars spent at destinations – understating or refusing to accept the need for environmental criteria. He further shows how the cruise line industry tends to respond when environmental movements become active at particular cruise destinations to emphasize that environmental problems need to be addressed. Often such articulation occurs when the local population realizes that environmental damage done by the cruise industry can also cause social problems. As a result, both policy fields are to be applied in conjunction with each other to foster sustainability.


Carroll and Janke investigate ways by which institutions of higher education are motivated and committed to becoming sustainable units. In doing so, various instruments as well as their measuring and reporting tools are compared and assessed for things such as the indicators used, transparency, quality and comparability of data, etc. Aside from locating the strengths and weaknesses of such instruments, they also conclude that social policy indicators are rarely employed, and that institutions of higher learning do not synthetically combine social and environmental policy criteria in their attempt to transform themselves toward sustainability.


The contributions in this book are of interest to a broad range of scholars, researchers, teachers and students from many disciplines. In addition, professionals engaged in environmental or social movements will find this book relevant to their work. The readings show how each discipline can look over its own fence. Their accessible style invites readers to inquire and become knowledgeable about issues of sustainability. Thus, the book serves as a communication catalyst for bridging disciplines and introducing readers to various fields as they focus on sustainability in a trans-disciplinary and policy connecting way.  In this sense, it can be useful as a text in interdisciplinary seminars concerned with sustainability and to acculturate students and teachers to thinking of “sustainability” as integrated component in all teaching and learning. Done successfully, it would become a cross sectional perspective throughout curricula – similar to what has been suggested for “gender”. There, too, the need to reflect on dimensions of “gender” in all we think and do has been seen as a necessary component in transforming gender relation patterns. The same holds true for “sustainability” in transforming society to a sustainable state.


Some scholars in this book are themselves engaged in sustainability related social movements. Some fill academic positions at universities while others hold positions as academic professionals in non-university research or NGO settings. Some have an educational background in two or more academic disciplines, and some have been trained both for academic careers and for trades. As academics they are part of the natural and/or social sciences and represent disciplines such as geography, sociology, general social science, social work, American studies, architecture, urban planning, forestry, agronomy, horticulture, general agriculture, nutrition, environmental studies, economics, international studies, and philosophy.


Examples from Agriculture, Nutrition, Forestry, Urban Planning, Care Work, Tourism, and Universities to Enhance Sustainability

Book Content Summary

This book argues that social and environmental policy should be synthetically treated as one and the same field, that both are but two aspects of the same coin – if sustainability is the goal. Such a paradigm shift is indicated, important, and timely to effectively move towards sustainability. This book is the first to take this approach and to give examples for it.

 Not to synthetically merge the two fields has been and will continue to be highly insufficient, inefficient and contradictory for policy and public administration aiming for a transformation towards a sustainable world.

 In general, social problems are dealt with in one “policy corner” and environmental problems in another. Rarely is social policy (at large) concerned with its impact on the environment or its connection with and relevance to environmental policy. Equally, environmental problems are generally not seen in conjunction with social policy, even though much environmental policy directly relates to health, nutrition, migration and other issues addressed by social policy. This book intends to correct the pattern to separate these very significant and large policy fields. Using examples from diverse academic and applied fields, it is shown how environmental policy can (and should) be thought of as social policy – and how social policy can (and should) simultaneously be seen as environmental policy. Tremendous benefits are to be expected.

 Book Objectives

This book has a trans disciplinary approach and pursues the following objectives:

  1.  to influence and advance the discourse on “sustainability”.
  2. to increase the awareness that environmental policy has social policy type outcomes and is of direct relevance to social policy. Stimulate discourse about this connection.
  3. to increase the awareness that social policy can impact on “nature” and is of direct relevance to environmental policy. Stimulate discourse about this connection.
  4.  to lay a foundation for reorganizing and merging social and environmental policy administrations, and to stimulate the discourse about it.
  5. to use the book as a platform for discussing the above issues at universities, in NGOs and in government.
  6. to contribute to a sustainability oriented, trans disciplinary teaching and research practice
  7. to enhance the emergence of  universities with clear  “sustainability identity” among administrators, faculty and students.
  8. to help introduce “sustainability” as a trans disciplinary cross-sectional perspective in all curricula (similar to “gender”, “ethnicity”, etc.).


The following market has been envisioned for this book:

  1. teaching in fields such as environmental sciences and policy, social sciences and policy, various other policy fields, geography, public administration, urban planning, architecture, forestry, resource management, etc.). Introductory courses on sustainability from a trans-disciplinary perspective.
  1. professionals and academics in the above mentioned areas
  2. civil society and social movement organizations active in social and environmental policy fields
  3. public libraries
  4. the general public as reached through Borders or Barnes and Noble, since the book is accessibly written and situated close to “popular academic volumes”.

Contributions, Contributors, Manuscript Size

Briefly speaking, the contributions and contributors have been selected according the following criteria:

  1. The book is unique and highly original. None of the material has previously been published. All contributions were written specifically for this volume. Each author was asked to address the connection between environmental and social policy and between social policy and environmental issues. In this sense, this volume has been very goal directed and “custom made”. It is not a “mere” compilation of authors’ research. In the process and discussions leading up to this volume, authors themselves had to become acquainted with the idea of peeking over the fence to identify and illustrate the synthetic nature of environmental and social policy in their work. In doing so, various levels of generalization were provided.
  2. Some contributions are more general in nature. Most chapters tend to be specific or based on a case study.
  1. None of the chapters is lengthy. The objective of the book is to present a broad spectrum of issues from various disciplines and, thus, to make possible and to optimize a broad interdisciplinary discourse.
  1. Contributions are written in an accessible style for the general, not specialized reader and student.
  2. It should be mentioned that eight of the contributors are female, eight are male. Since there is an entire discourse on “gender relations and sustainability”, see also the contribution by Lynn Duggan in this book, this may be important to readers.