Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Alan Black

Second Advisor

Dr. John Duff


The concept of the “triple bottom line” has recently become central to sustainable development (SD) and it emerged to be internationally regarded as integrating economic, environmental and social considerations into planning for the future. While numerous authors have contended that successful delivery of SD required a consensus and shared vision about implementation, objectives, and outcomes, others have argued that the lack of consensus about SD is not necessarily problematical. Whether or not a consensus is required for the successful deployment of SD is debatable, but that pluralities of views about SD exist is now widely acknowledged. Involved In the contestation about SD are competing views regarding the human relationship to nature and the form that future development should take. A review of the relevant literature indicated that concepts of SD have been classified in various ways. For example, some writers have distinguished between ‘very strong’, 'strong', ‘weak’ and ‘very weak’ conditions required for sustainability. Other writers have devised alternative schema based on various answers to questions such as: what is to be sustained? What is to be developed? How? Why? Whilst such schema may provide useful frameworks, they do not necessarily provide empirical data on how SD is understood by persons responsible for developing and implementing policy at one or another level of government. In addressing that issue, this dissertation aimed to examine the beliefs about SD that were held by a group of 170 people associated with the implementation of SD at the level of local government and community in Western Australia. This examination was undertaken to establish if, and how, the views of these people in the community matched the propositions about SD that have previously been made by academics and other commentators. Local government provided a context for the study because of the Commonwealth of Australia’s endorsement of the United Nations Agenda 21 Program. With the endorsement of Agenda 21, local government was recognised by the Commonwealth and the UN as having a major role to play in SD promotion efforts. The issues outlined above led the dissertation to two purposes. The first purpose was to establish if SD was actually understood to have meaning within the context of previous propositions regarding a spectrum of views on sustainability. The second, and more important, purpose was to establish the characteristics of visions of SD as understood by a sample of people involved with local government decision-making in Perth, Western Australia. The objective was to discover whether a shared vision of SD based on a consensus of opinion was available, or whether a plurality of views would emerge corresponding to one or more of the previous classifications of very strong, strong, weak and very weak SD available In the related literature. To deliver those two outcomes, Q-Methodology was used to enable classification of the visions that people held about SD.