From a three-legged stool to a three-dimensional world: Integrating rights, gender and indigenous knowledge into sustainability practice and law

Lori Diprete Brown, Sumudu Atapattu, Valerie Jo Stull, Claudia Irene Calderón, Mariaelena Huambachano, Marie Josée Paula Houénou, Anna Snider, Andrea Monzón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


“Sustainable Development” has come a long way since the World Commission on Environment and Development first popularized the term in 1987. Virtually everyone is now familiar with the term Sustainable Development, from states to multinational corporations, and from affluent communities in the Global North to impoverished communities in the Global South. It received a new lease of life in 2015 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is recognized that sustainable development requires an inter-disciplinary, multi-level, and bottom-up approach, and that this ideal is easy to state but difficult to operationalize. Pursuant to deliberations at an international workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison1, which aimed at fostering the exchange of ideas among diverse experts and developing solutions for effective inclusion of women and youth in climate change response strategies, we propose an innovative, practical three-dimensional model that enhances sustainability theory and practice with cross-cutting integration of human rights, gender equity, and Indigenous and local knowledge. We evaluate the utility of the model in two ways: First, we analyze how the model informs current approaches to environmental sustainability and human wellbeing including the SDGs, agroecology, de-growth principles, and planetary health metrics. Then, we explore the feasibility and added value of the approach through seven case studies from Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Malawi, Peru, Côte D’Ivoire, and Aotearoa – New Zealand. We conclude that the proposed model is congruent with current theory and practice. It builds on existing principles by identifying and addressing gaps. It enables practical action in a variety of settings and fosters a more integrated approach to sustainable wellbeing for humanity and our earth. We recommend continued development of this theoretical framework and related guidelines for program design, implementation and evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9521
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Agroecology
  • De-growth
  • Gender equity
  • Human rights
  • Local and indigenous knowledge
  • Planetary health
  • Sustainable development
  • Sustainable development goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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