Sustainability and intergenerational equity: Do past injustices matter?

Aaron Golub, Maren Mahoney, John Harlow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Intergenerational equity is a core concept of sustainability, typically expressed as a concern for future generations. We contend in this review paper that intergenerational equity can also reflect a concern for past generations. Within the study and practice of social justice, significant concern is paid to remedying injustices suffered by past generations, sometimes called "restorative justice," because these injustices do not end with the past, but remain embedded in the social, economic, and ecological fabrics of our present-day society. We ask: what roles do past injustices play in our understanding of intergenerational justice, and what roles can this understanding play in sustainability thought and practice? We weave together reviews from justice and legal studies and environmental ethics. Several short cases illustrate how restorative justice in practice results in benefits for sustainability, including improved resource management and social cohesion and governance. Our review of sustainability literature shows that while only few of the conceptions of intergenerational equity hint at a concern for historical issues, its concern for intra-generational equity may be a place where restorative issues can be addressed. Within sustainability science approaches, restorative issues may also arise in the assessment of the current state as well as in the appreciation of contextual norms and histories of the places attempting to become more sustainable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-277
Number of pages9
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Intergeneration equity restorative justice

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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