Document Type



The concept of access to natural resources has been a specific concern of economists and ecologists and is a distinct component in recent models of social sustainability. Using a series of conceptual and empirical examples, this article extends the notion of access broadly to social institutions and sociocultural norms. We argue that access may be usefully construed as an analytic tool that has direct applicability to many sustainability issues as it allows for cross-disciplinary and public engagement. Here the concept of access, linked to Amartya Sen’s theory of capabilities, also makes visible the multi-scaled and interconnected social processes that influence the material world and from which certain individuals and communities are excluded. This article examines access as a set of culturally appropriate and equitable engagements that promote social sustainability with a series of four examples: access to actions necessary to reclaim a polluted river; access to restorative natural environments; access to information and research findings; and access to decision-making processes. Insights from these examples are integrated within the wider discourse on sustainability.


social sustainability; access; power; sociocultural norms; equity; public discourse


Politics and Social Change | Sustainability

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Publisher Citation

Wolsko, C., Marino, E., Doherty, T. J., Fisher, S., Green, A. S., Goodwin, B., . . . Wirth, A. (2016). Systems of access: A multidisciplinary strategy for assessing the social dimensions of sustainability. Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy, 12(1)

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