The capabilities approach and environmental sustainability: the case for functioning constraints

Wouter Peeters, Jo Dirix, Sigrid Sterckx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The capabilities approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum has become an influential viewpoint for addressing issues of social justice and human development. It has not yet, however, given adequate theoretical consideration to the requirements of environmental sustainability. Sen has focussed on the instrumental importance of human development for achieving sustainability, but has failed to consider the limits of this account, especially with respect to consumption-reduction. Nussbaum has criticised constraining material consumption for its paternalistic prescription of one particular conception of the good life, without considering it as an imperative of justice. We discuss two possible extensions of the capabilities approach. First, the concept of capability ceilings contains several attractive elements, but it also suffers from some shortcomings. Therefore, second, we advocate constraining people’s combinations of functionings in accordance with a personal budget which consists of a fair share of environmental resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-389
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental Values
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • capabilities approach
  • environmental sustainability
  • political liberalism
  • sustainable consumption


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