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The Seven Triads of Sustainability

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-007. May 2015

The Seven Triads of Sustainability:


ustainability, and development that is sustainable, means different things to different people. GDRC's research programme on sustainable development issues has provided a rich tapestry of topics and themes that underpin much of what we do under the banner of sustainability.

Based on a detailed analysis and review of literature on sustainable development, some of these key sustainability characteristics that are particularly critical at the local level (complementing the well-known slogan, "Think Global Act Local") include, for example:

  • capacities to understand and analyze problems
  • partnering with different resources/organizations to find solutions
  • using local resources for local solutions
  • involving the whole community and all stakeholders with comprehensive participation
  • negotiation and consensus-building from within
  • ability to incorporate and adopt external resources within local contexts, or
  • respecting historical and cultural issues.

The research results are being presented here as seven 'Triads of Sustainability', where seven issues (1) participation, (2) decision-making, (3) partnership, (4) governance, (5) knowledge and information, (6) continual improvement, and (7) lifestyles, which lead to sustainability, are explained in detail with case studies. These triads are key ingredients that define and drive sustainability, particularly at the local level.

The Seven Sustainability Triads
  1. Participation
  2. Decision-Making
  3. Partnership
  4. Governance
  5. Knowledge and Information
  6. Continual Improvement
  7. Lifestyles
There are, as expected, considerable overlap and interlinkages among the seven triads, and they cannot be taken in isolation and implemented. The descriptions of each triad outline its three key components and related issues, but the real challenge will be to convert these components into locale-specific procedures and working methodologies that will achieve the desired result - achieving sustainability.

The Governance Triad, for example, covers transparency, accountability, and efficiency as its components. The challenge is to understand the implications of the concept of 'transparency' - Transparency of what? Accountable to whom? Why should transparency be ensured? What problems will be encountered? What will happen if transparency is not ensured? Again, this understanding has to be defined, understood and accepted by and for all stakeholders.

The Seven Triads of Sustainability:

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