, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 718–728 | Cite as

The Role of Social and Intergenerational Equity in Making Changes in Human Well-Being Sustainable

  • J. K. Summers
  • L. M. Smith


A sustainable world is one in which human needs are met equitably and without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Human well-being is described by four primary elements—basic human needs, economic needs, environmental needs, and subjective well-being. These elements can interact in a myriad of ways to influence overall well-being. What makes changes in human well-being sustainable for a population or a nation? Two major interactional concepts can push changes in human well-being toward a sustainable state in space and time—social equity and intergenerational equity. The concept of social equity distributes well-being over space, ensuring the fair treatment of all members of society promoting spatial sustainability of a well-being decision. The concept of intergenerational equity distributes well-being through time, ensuring the well-being of present and future generations of a population or nation, promoting temporal sustainability of a well-being decision. The roles of social and intergenerational equity in terms of their influence on human well-being are examined with a focus on more sustainable decision-making.


Well-being Sustainability Social equity Environmental justice Intergenerational equity 



The information in this document has been funded wholly (or in part) by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gulf Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research LaboratoryUS Environmental Protection AgencyGulf BreezeUSA

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