HomeIs the concept of “environmental sustainability” misleading?

HomeIs the concept of “environmental sustainability” misleading?

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Published on Thursday, October 07, 2021


The Symposium aims to question how the concept of Environmental sustainability has evolved and affects Environmental research today at the crossroads of our disciplines and practices. The Symposium will revisit our notions and knowledge of Environmental sustainability.



The recently set-up Fédération de Recherche en Environnement et Durabilité (FERED) (University of Strasbourg/CNRS/INSERM), with the goal to inaugurate this new research structure, launch a Call for contributions. The event will be held in Strasbourg (and if needed, also online) on 20-22 October 2021 on the topic :« Is the concept of “environmental sustainability” misleading ? Mixed perspectives ». The Symposium will thus offer an excellent opportunity to question the concept of sustainability at the crossroads of our various disciplines and practices, in order to better understand and master the way it affects environmental research lato sensu.

At a time of the climate emergency, the dramatic loss of biodiversity and the awareness of the need for a transition to the “future world”, the concept of “sustainability” has become a buzzword that cuts across our disciplines. Although the concept covers a very old reality, it has been universally defined and recognised, notably in the United Nations’ Bruntland report “Our Common Future” (1987), as satisfying the needs of the present without affecting those of future generations. This broad definition leaves a wide margin of appreciation to those who refer to it. Above all, the use of the concept seems to have been largely circumvented to cover processes that have a detrimental impact on the environment.

Thus, the guiding thread of this event will be to assess how the concept of sustainability and the practices claiming to rely on it have evolved. We formulate the hypothesis that, because of a broad definition, it is necessary to assess how this room for manoeuvre has been exploited, and how in return the use made of it has made the concept of sustainability evolve and transform our disciplinary research. The ambition of this symposium will be to contribute to the emergence of a “new innovative sustainability science discipline” by questioning the misuse that may have been made of the concept over the last forty years, by reflecting on the means of ruling out such abuses, by rigorously drawing the contours of “environmental sustainability” and by trying to understand how it still makes sense.


20st October, 2021

Session 1 : Sustainability or Environmental Sustainabilities ? A Plural Concept ?

1:45-6:30 : This introductory session, aims to clarify the plural, dynamic and vague concept of “sustainability”. What have been the role of temporal, geographical, cultural, social, geo-political, economic approaches in the diversity of meanings and representations given to the concept of “sustainability” ?

Opening Speeches :

  • Rémi Barillon, Professor and Vice-President in charge of Research UNISTRA (TBC)
  • Marc Hoffsess, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg in charge of the ecological transformation of the territory
  • Marine De Lassalle, Professor in Political science, Director of SAGE
  • Gwenaël Imfeld, Director of the Research Initiative in Sustainability and the Environment (RISE/FERED), Senior research scientist CNRS (DR)

Chair : Elisabeth Lambert, CNRS Research Professor (SAGE, USIAS Fellow) ; Marie-Claire Pierret, Researcher, ITES (Strasbourg University)

Keynote Speakers :

  • Ben Campbell, Lecturer, Dpt of Anthropology (Durham University), « Human-Environmental Sustainability : a critical-comparative approach »
  • Nathalie Herve-Fournereau, DR CNRS (IODE), « Critical reflexions on EU Green Deal : rethinking the concept of vulnerability to built new socio-ecological solidarities »
  • Alexandra Langlais, CNRS Research Professor, IODE (Rennes University), « Changing our trajectory towards greater sustainability : between scientific uncertainties and ecological emergencies »

Selected Speakers :

  • Farah Jerrari, PhD Candidate (Grenoble Alpes University), « Rethinking sustainability as a legal concept : from an integration principle to a prioritization principle »
  • Anna-Julia Saiger, PhD candidate (Humboldt University), « The Future of sustainability is procedural : a lesson from international climate change law »

6 :30 - 7 :00 Best PhD award Ceremony

7 :00 - 7 :30 Presentation : Art Installation

7 :30-9 :00 Welcome Cocktail (MISHA)

21st October, 2021

Session 2 : The evolution of measures and indicators of environmental sustainability

09 :00-12 :30 : This session questions changes in the assessment and measurement of “environmental sustainability” across scientific disciplines. What is the state of science in the observation, measurement and assessment of environmental sustainability ? What are current scientific controversies, and if so, how are they overcome or circumvented ? How can “ecological limits” be measured in the longer term and at which scale ?

Chair : Jochen Sohnle, Full Professor of Public Law, (University of Lorraine IRENEE)

Keynote Speaker :

  • Dr Stanislav Shmelev, Director, Environment Europe (Oxford), Professor, (Al-Farabi Kazakh National University), « Multidimensional Assessment of Sustainability for Countries and Cities »

Selected Speakers :

  • Ioana Deniaud, Engineer BETA, François Marmier, Engineer BETA, Nathalie Picard, Professor in Economics, BETA. (Strasbourg University), « Sustainability concepts, methods and measurement over time and disciplines »
  • Ioan Negrutiu, Emeritus Prof. (ENS, Lyon), Founder of the Michel Serres Institute, « The landscape of environmental evaluation methods : measuring what counts »
  • Chair Phu Nguyen-Van, CNRS Research Professor, BETA (Unistra)

Selected Speakers :

  • Jules Boileau, PhD candidate CEFE (CNRS), « DeMo : An innovative vision of urban planning for sustainability, from Design with Nature to Design for Nature »
  • Ozge Varis, Assistant Professor (Kırklareli University), « Defining sustainability under international investment law »

Selected Speaker :

  • King Carl Tornam Duho, Technical Director, Dataking Research Lab., « Corporate governance and climate change disclosure practices of mining companies in Africa »

12 :30-2 :00 lunch break (not included)

Session 3 : Sustainable goods, services and processes : a diversified implementation ?

2 :00-6 :00 : This session enters through sustainable goods, services and processes to expand the characteristics resulting from the implementation. The proposals may cover the following topics : Agriculture/fisheries, food systems, manufacturing, construction, marketing, transportation systems, urban planning and mobility, architecture, management and rehabilitation of ecosystems.

Chair : Stéphane Vuillemier, CNRS Research Professor, GMGM (Strasbourg University)

Keynote Speakers :

  • Klaus Kümmerer, Professorship for Sustainable Chemistry and Material Resources, Director International Research and Education Sustainable Collaborative Centre (ISC3), (University of Lüneburg)
  • Dr. Karl Matthias Wantzen, UNESCO Chair River Culture/ Fleuves et Patrimoine, CNRS UMR Citeres (University of Tours), « River culture : learning ‘sustainability’ from naturally flowing rivers »

Selected Speaker :

  • Melis Aras, Postdoctoral Researcher, SAGE (Strasbourg University), « Environmental sustainability and energy transition : in search of a standardisation for the environmental sustainability »

Chair : Prof. Dr. Karl Matthias Wantzen, UNESCO Chair River Culture/ CNRS UMR Citeres (University of Tours)

Selected Speakers :

  • Emilien Veron, Assistant Professor (Strasbourg University), « Spatial factors influencing the territorial gaps of organic farming in France »
  • Tuyen Tiet, Postdoctoral Researcher, BETA, INRAE (Strasbourg University), « Drivers of organic farming : lab-in-the-field evidence of social comparison and information nudge in networks in Vietnam »
  • Laurence Jouniaux, Scientific Coordinator CNRS at Earth and Environment Institute of Strasbourg (EEI) (Strasbourg University), « Sustainability and research : how to structure discussions and actions ? »

6 :15-7 :00 : Posters session

  • Jules Boileau, PhD candidate CEFE (CNRS), « Improving the integration of biodiversity in urban planning : ecological functionality, large scale and prospective scenario »
  • Gwenaëlle Flieller, PhD candidate, IPHC (Strasbourg University), L. Rifault-Valois & S. Ennahar, CNRS, IPHC UMR 7178 (Strasbourg University) « Allelopathy, a model to find new bioherbicides »
  • Raissa Musarra, Postdoctoral Researcher, IEE (University of Sao Paulo), « Mining and major disasters in Brazil : the insufficiency of public response tools »
  • Gayathri D. Naik, PhD researcher, SOAS (University of London), « Environmental sustainability in Anthropocene and a strong bias towards human rights : necessitating a shift towards biocentrism »

22nd October, 2021

Session 4 : The sustainability of the concept of ”environmental sustainability“ : What does our Anthropocene Epoch need ?

09 :00-11 :00 : This session questions and foresees the evolution and potential impact of the sustainability concept. What can other concepts, such as “Planetary Boundaries”, offer to develop sustainability sciences and practices ? Is the transition towards a “sustainable” tomorrow desirable ? What are the potential drawbacks of development focusing on sustainability ?

Chair : Rémi Barbier, Professor, GESTE/ENGEES (Unistra)

Keynote Speakers :

  • Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stockholm Resilience Centre, « About the concept of Corporate Biosphere Stewardship »
  • Leire Escajedo, Professor of Constitutional Law, and Law and Ethics in the Biosciences. (Bilbao University of the Basque Country), « In what sense may sustainability be a governance goal ? »
  • Eric Pineault, Professor, ISE (UQAM) and USIAS fellow, « Planetary boundaries to what and for whom ? Growth, capitalism and environmental limits today »

11 :00-12 :45 : Wrap-up, Recommandations and Conclusions : Gwenaël Imfeld, Elisabeth Lambert, Rémi Barbier and Matthias Wantzen (RISE, Unistra)

12 :45-1 :00 Campus Vert’s Activities

1 :00-2 :45 lunch break (not included)

Scientific Committee

  • Rémi BARBIER, Proffessor at ENGEES, Senior of the UMR GESTE, Member of the RISE steering committee
  • Gwenaël IMFLED, DR CNRS, Lhyges, RISE Manager
  • Elisabeth LAMBERT, DR CNRS, SAGE, Member of the RISE steering committee
  • Marie-Claire PIERRET, Geochemist LHyGeS, Head of the OHGE (Hydrogeochemical Observatory of the Environment), Member of the RISE steering committee
  • Laurent SCHMITT, Professor at LIVE, Vice President Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsibility, Deputy Director of RISE
  • Karl-Matthias WANTZEN, Professor, UNESCO Chair / Rivers and Heritage, CNRS UMR Citeres, Member of the RISE steering committee

Information and registration

To know more about the symposium

To suscribe to the symposium



  • MISHA Conference Room - Allée du Général Rouvillois
    Strasbourg, France (67)

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


  • Wednesday, October 20, 2021
  • Thursday, October 21, 2021
  • Friday, October 22, 2021


  • sustainability, environment, durabilité, environnement, développement durable

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Céline Cordier
    courriel : celine [dot] cordier [at] unistra [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Is the concept of “environmental sustainability” misleading? », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Thursday, October 07, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/17cr

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