Earth stewardship: Shaping a sustainable future through interacting policy and norm shifts

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • F. Stuart Chapin
  • Elke U. Weber
  • Elena M. Bennett
  • Reinette Biggs
  • Jeroen van den Bergh
  • W. Neil Adger
  • Anne Sophie Crépin
  • Stephen Polasky
  • Carl Folke
  • Marten Scheffer
  • Kathleen Segerson
  • John M. Anderies
  • Scott Barrett
  • Juan Camilo Cardenas
  • Stephen R. Carpenter
  • Nils Kautsky
  • Simon A. Levin
  • Jason F. Shogren
  • Brian Walker
  • James Wilen
  • Aart de Zeeuw

Transformation toward a sustainable future requires an earth stewardship approach to shift society from its current goal of increasing material wealth to a vision of sustaining built, natural, human, and social capital—equitably distributed across society, within and among nations. Widespread concern about earth’s current trajectory and support for actions that would foster more sustainable pathways suggests potential social tipping points in public demand for an earth stewardship vision. Here, we draw on empirical studies and theory to show that movement toward a stewardship vision can be facilitated by changes in either policy incentives or social norms. Our novel contribution is to point out that both norms and incentives must change and can do so interactively. This can be facilitated through leverage points and complementarities across policy areas, based on values, system design, and agency. Potential catalysts include novel democratic institutions and engagement of non-governmental actors, such as businesses, civic leaders, and social movements as agents for redistribution of power. Because no single intervention will transform the world, a key challenge is to align actions to be synergistic, persistent, and scalable.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1907-1920
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2022

Bibliographical note

We gratefully acknowledge the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for sustained support of collaborations among ecologists and economists through their annual workshops on the island of Askö in the Baltic Sea.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Anthropocene, Earth stewardship, Institutions, Market economy, Social norms, Transformation
  • Environmental planning