Are we making decisions in a sustainable way? A comprehensive literature review about rationalities for sustainable development

Elsevier, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 145, 1 March 2017, Pages 310-322
Ivan Bolis, Sandra N. Morioka, Laerte I. Sznelwar


The process of decision making can be critical in various ways. In particular, because it determines the path towards or away from sustainable development. In this context, the present study examined the relationship between rationalities for decisions making processes and sustainable development in order to gain a better understanding of how to promote a more sustainable development model. In order to achieve this purpose, a systematic literature review was conducted based on 151 articles structuring the contributions of academic literature that discuss the relationship between rationality and sustainable development. All articles in this literature base state the need for changes in the current decision-making model, which is dominated by the logic of instrumental rationality. The main criticism is that this logic tends to focus excessively on individualistic interests. The literature points out the need for other rationalities to provide alternative decision paradigms to foster sustainable development, including: (i) substantive rationality, towards integrating values for sustainable development in decision making; (ii) communicative rationality to promote cooperation and coordination for more sustainable development; and lastly, (iii) bounded rationality, which advises about the need to consider human cognitive properties and the presence of complexities intrinsic to sustainable development. Thus, more sustainable decisions would require: educating for sustainability-related values (e.g., ethics, cooperation, respect for the environment, etc.) to influence individual decisions; making decision-makers accountable, to improve cooperative and collective actions for discussion and decision processes, especially for decisions that affect the social sphere and the environment; and promoting systemic changes in the current development model.


  • Sustainable development
  • Rationalities
  • Decision-making process