Intrinsic sustainability demands sustainability to be part of the self-concept. Sustainable behavior is then no longer heteronomous through punishment or reward but autonomous in the direct interest of the acting person.

Steve Windels, PhD Intrinsic Sustainability
Steve Windels, PhD Intrinsic Sustainability
Intrinsic Sustainability Book

Intrinsic Sustainability

The term intrinsic refers to the basic nature or character of a thing. Intrinsic motivated actions are performed for the nature or character of the action and not because of its connection to other things. In contrast, an action is extrinsically motivated when its goal is a consequence separate from the action, like to avoid punishment or to receive a reward.

The idea of intrinsic sustainability follows this definition. It demands sustainability to be a part of the self-concept. Sustainable behavior then is no longer
heteronomous through punishment or reward but autonomous in the direct interest of the acting person.

Development of Intrinsic Sustainability

From different concepts we learn about the connection between personal maturity and sustainable behavior. The process of personal development depends on the human beings ability of finding solutions to a series of existential problems that unfold throughout a lifetime. With every problem solved the personality grows more complex including more worldly substance. In other words the intrinsic pattern is being augmented. Research helped to define several aggregates or stages of personality that follow a designated order. There seems to be a specific level of complexity that demands the inclusion of sustainability.

Clare W. Graves refers to these as levels of human existence. Within the person the levels of existence cannot always be determined clearly. Not only are usually several of these levels active at the same time. In addition the personality of a human being can be divided into different components, like cognition, affects, moral, spirituality and so on. Ken Wilber refers to these components as developmental lines of the personality. Each component has its own level of existence. This means that the personality of a human being can be composed by various components of different levels of existence.

Certain conditions or experiences can lead to a shift of the development level. But there are obstacles that prevent the personality from proceeding. One of the main obstacles in this theory is defined as the ego. Explained in a simplified fashion, the ego holds on to a certain set of characteristics which it refers to as its identity and which it defends with high emotional attachment. Due to that mechanism the development of the personality can come to a halt and wont be able to reach intrinsic sustainability.

Intrinsic Sustainability and Moral

Concerning intrinsic sustainability the moral development of a person seems to be a crucial factor. Moral represents one component of the personality of a human being. Lawrence Kohlberg defines 6 moral stages in a model of a similar type as Graves levels of human existence. The 6th and highest moral stage is of particular interest. It represents a universal moral. Its primary objective is the equality of all claims in all situations. This contains the collective responsibility to realize and mediate between all stages, the pedagogical commitment towards individuals of lower stages and the self-expectation to actually realize the 6th stage for ones own life.

It gets interesting when we take a look at the lower moral stages. In an abbreviated form these are: Stage 1 is directly oriented towards punishment, obedience and reward. Desired are actions that avoid punishment or deliver reward. At stage 2 an action is just, if it can be claimed by the involved parties and brings advantage or serves to prevent disadvantage reciprocally. The mutual relation is of exploiting nature. If we compare these two stages to the definition of extrinsic motivation by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan we obtain similar descriptions: Extrinsic motivated behavior is of exploiting character and serves to acquire a consequence, which is separable from the action. The behavior depends on external incentives and controls. The primary objective is to avoid punishment or to receive reward.

Intrinsic Sustainability - Moral and Behavior
Intrinsic Sustainability – Moral and Behavior

It seems that major areas of our economy are designed by this pattern. Rewards, for instance, are payment, status, respect, influence or power. Punishments can be sanctions, dismissal, demotion, humiliation and others. This can be suspected to be one reason that prevents us as a collective from reaching higher moral stages of more universal ethics that could allow us to incorporate behaviors of a more sustainable nature intrinsically.

Expansion of the Inner Frame

In consideration of the theories of Kohlberg and Deci/Ryan a set of rules and obligations that is administered extrinsically is not enough to fulfill the requirements that the concept of sustainability demands on a global and long-term basis. The expansion of the inner frame is required to make sustainability an intrinsic premise of action.

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