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Sustainable Development—A Poorly Communicated Concept by Mass Media. Another Challenge for SDGs?

Svatava Janoušková (), Tomáš Hák (), Vlastimil Nečas () and Bedřich Moldan ()
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Svatava Janoušková: Charles University Environment Center, Charles University, 11636 Prague, Czech Republic
Tomáš Hák: Charles University Environment Center, Charles University, 11636 Prague, Czech Republic
Vlastimil Nečas: Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, 11636 Prague, Czech Republic
Bedřich Moldan: Charles University Environment Center, Charles University, 11636 Prague, Czech Republic

Sustainability, 2019, vol. 11, issue 11, 1-20

Abstract: Thirty years after “Our Common Future” by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, sustainable development remains the only internationally and consensually recognized global development concept. The last major United Nations event—the Rio+20 Conference in 2012—endorsed it by proposing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their more specific targets and indicators (adopted in 2015). We claim that educators, politicians, and civil society organizations have failed to a large extent in making the sustainable development concept broadly appealing. Among the missing enabling factors are a good narrative (making an extremely complex sustainable development concept comprehensible to all, thereby raising public support), social norms (reflecting commonly held sustainability principles and goals), and sustainability indicators (providing clear information for steering policies as well as for daily decisions). In this paper we focus on the role of mass media (English-written printed newspapers) as an important information channel and agenda-setter, and analyze their modes of sustainability communication. We look into how these media communicate selected key sustainability themes, and how they make connections to the overarching concept of sustainable development. We hypothesize that the media predominantly informs people and sets the agenda by communicating themes of current interest (e.g., gender inequalities), but misses the opportunity of framing them in the broader, overarching concept of sustainable development. This may be a significant sustainability faux (error)—great political intentions need efficient implementation tools, not just political resolutions. To this end, we need well-narrated and framed sustainability themes communicated through mass media to activate the social norms that potentially support societally beneficial conduct. By undertaking an extensive mass media analysis, this paper offers rare empirical evidence on sustainability communication by the global mass media during the last ten years, and identifies the main caveats and challenges for sustainability proponents. As sustainability communication does not yet have its own theoretical framework, SDGs seem to offer a suitable mechanism for this.

Keywords: sustainable development; sustainability communication; media analysis; SDGs; knowledge on sustainable development (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: Q Q0 Q2 Q3 Q5 Q56 O13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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