Institutions and Sustainability Refining the Definitions

Institutions as in this chapter comprise not only formal and informal organizations but all systems of interindividual rules structuring the activity of agents (Czada 1995). This definition of institutions as interpersonal systems of rules governing decision making and comprising organizations, institutional mechanisms, and orientations has been proven fruitful for analyzing the mechanisms fostering or hindering sustainable development (Hans-Bockler-Stiftung 2001).

As derived from political science, the definition rightly focuses on the sustainability-relevant aspects of the role of organizations, decision-making processes, and orientations, the impacts they have, and the consequences they cause or contribute to. A sustainable institutional setting is a specific state of the institutional system favoring sustainable development. This definition requires an externally set norm to distinguish between sustainable and unsustainable constellations, derived from Agenda 21 or the World Summit on Sustainable Development Plan of Action, for example. In general terms, institutions for sustainable development are the rules that structure the choice of action of individual or corporate and other collective actors within a society to the benefit of sustainable development. This includes organisations, which influence all actors or groups of actors in a society, if they directly or through these actors have a significant impact on society as a whole, and mechanisms and orientations (both implicit or explicit systems of rules), which apply to all actors, or groups of actors in a society, and systems of rules which apply to specific collective actors, if these rules through these actors have a significant impact on the sustainable development of the society as a whole.3 (from Spangenberg 2002, modified)

Corporate actors here refers to constituted political actors (governments, NGOs, unions, associations) with at least a minimal organization. In contrast, collective actors refers to groups of individuals who potentially might act similarly and simultaneously because of comparable interests and preferences in specific circumstances but without an organizational structure. Whereas corporate actors are themselves institutions, collective actors are not, although their influence (e.g., in market processes) is significant.

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