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Navigating the sustainability landscape

Impact pathways and the sustainability ethic as moral compass

Matthew Archer

Sustainability professionals believe their work has positive social and environmental impacts in the “real world,” but they recognize that their impactfulness is contingent on a number of other factors, especially the willingness of other, typically more powerful actors to consider their findings and implement their recommendations. In this article, I develop the notion of “impact pathways” to think about the relationship between paths, maps, travelers, terrains, and ethics in the context of what my informants regularly refer to as the sustainability “landscape.” I show how the interpretation of a map and the choice between different possible paths can be partially explained by an actor’s particular ethical framework, in this case something I identify as the sustainability ethic.