Modeling normativity in sustainability: a comparison of the sustainable development goals, the Paris agreement, and the papal encyclical

Gregor Schmieg, Esther Meyer, Isabell Schrickel, Jeremias Herberg, Guido Caniglia, Ulli Vilsmaier, Manfred Laubichler, Erich Hörl, Daniel Lang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The idea of sustainability is intrinsically normative. Thus, understanding the role of normativity in sustainability discourses is crucial for further developing sustainability science. In this article, we analyze three important documents that aim to advance sustainability and explore how they organize norms in relation to sustainability. The three documents are: the Pope’s Encyclical Laudato Si’, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. We show that understanding the role of different types of norms in the three documents can help understand normative features of both scientific and non-scientific sustainability discourses. We present the diverse system of norms in a model that interrelates three different levels: macro, meso, and micro. Our model highlights how several processes affect the normative orientation of nations and societies at the meso-level in different ways. For instance, individual ethical norms at the micro-level, such as personal responsibility, may help decelerate unsustainable consumerism at the aggregate meso-level. We also show that techno-scientific norms at the macro-level representing global indicators for sustainability may accelerate innovations. We suggest that our model can help better organize normative features of sustainability discourses and, therefore, to contribute to the further development of sustainability science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-796
Number of pages12
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Dynamical system
  • Heterarchy
  • Levels
  • Norms
  • Temporal qualities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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