ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

Sustainability Research, Reviews and Signposting

Sustainable Development: Actors and Politics, Stakeholder Agendas and Power Relations

Internationally, Sustainable Development attracts and subsumes a vast network with multiple stakeholders involved in the politics of SD. It is worth exploring their potential agendas in relation to SD and the power differences that may exist between them.

Understanding the structure of these relationships and the nature of their influences is useful to understand how different groups are involved with and inform the process of sustainable development.


SD actors matrix, (C) Dr. Janet Fisher, University of Exeter

One potential rendering might suggest that the potential agendas of power brokers and holders, such as governments and powerful NGOs and businesses (groups for shorthand), will be accountable to and influenced by their constituents, stakeholders/investors and members, but ‘directed’ by their leadership. In such cases, the sustainability agenda may well only be reflected in group activities and their larger agendas depending on their relative concerns and needs, awareness and attitudes, and scales of interest and operation.

Agendas of social movements, as self-organised collectives of individuals with similar interests and/or goals, are perhaps defined by those individuals and their leaders with much more fluidity and flexibility, usually around those central interests or goals, and usually borne out of a kind of ‘inspirational dissatisfaction’ or reaction to some condition or situation.

The potential agendas of individuals will most often (but not always) be aligned with self-interest to maximise individual utility, where that ‘individual’ might also extend to include family, friends and close associates. Again, individual agendas could be aligning with reactions to external conditions, defined by belief systems, or influenced by media or culture, for better or for worse (thinking here of deteriorating conditions in Egypt).

Wealthy global north groups usually have quite different motivations, agendas and power, when compared with groups of the global south, usually more vulnerable to environmental and economic change, political instability and welfare issues, including basic survival needs. (Usually, but not always…) Frequently supported by international aid and trade, the south might occasionally find themselves beholden to their northern benefactors, who, by this very relationship, tend to wield more power and can frequently direct agendas in their favour (thinking particularly of the US ram-rodding so many international environmental agreements). Similar relationships might be identified between local-national-international levels, although there can always be contrary examples of powerful local personalities that wield greater influence than their counterparts elsewhere.

With such broad and rich territory for exploration, surely there are bound to be alternative views?

Comments, criticisms and insights always welcome below!

[image courtesy of, with thanks to, and copyright by Dr. Janet Fisher, University of Exeter]

6 comments on “Sustainable Development: Actors and Politics, Stakeholder Agendas and Power Relations

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This entry was posted on 3 March 2013 by in Environmental Sustainability, Social Sustainability, Sustainable Development.

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