From Development to Poverty Alleviation and the Not-So-Sustainable Sustainable Development

  • Mel GrayEmail author
Reference work entry
Part of the Social Work book series (SOWO)


This chapter views sustainable development as environmentally friendly. It explores policy on social and sustainable development and examines issues of environmental sustainability within contemporary approaches to poverty alleviation. It reviews development policies that prioritize growth and production over social and ecological justice and calls for an extension of sustainable development to embrace environmental sustainability within frameworks that emphasize economic and human development outcomes. Environmental sustainability concerns issues surrounding economic growth, human development, environmental decline, and building a bridge between economics and ecology. The chapter ends with a discussion of social work, arguing that, due to its humanistic focus, it is highly unlikely that environmental justice, or radical ecological justice, would become more important than social justice and human development, while poverty and inequality remain. The best we can do in social work is learn from practice by documenting what social workers are doing to further sustainable social development and environmental justice, cognizant that most social workers are not engaged in such work and social workers are small players in this terrain. In addition, those in the profession promoting developmental and green social work constitute a minority, albeit growing, voice. Hence, we should avoid overambitious claims and instead seek to establish the effectiveness of what we do. The goals of social work are wide-ranging, and its practice is so diverse that it is difficult to articulate exactly what it is that social workers do. This is possibly one reason why social workers around the world feel their work goes unrecognized and the profession lacks the respect not only of politicians but also local communities and service users of all ilk.


Social development Sustainable development Environmental sustainability Ecological justice Social work 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia

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