Defining and measuring sustainability: a systematic review of studies in rural Latin America and the Caribbean Academic Article uri icon


  • 2018 Springer Nature B.V. Research on sustainability was ignited by the Brundtland Report and further fueled by the recognition that sustainability is a critical challenge for the twenty-first century. The explosion of sustainability literature necessitates continuous review and synthesis. This targeted review focuses on sustainable rural land use in Latin America and the Caribbean. A systematic selection process yielded 57 articles published between 1980 and 2016. The articles were categorized based on the definition of sustainable land use, measure(s), and their contributions to sphere(s) of knowledgeenvironment, economic, and/or social. Almost half of the articles were categorized into one sphere of knowledge, one-fifth in two spheres, and the remaining third in all three spheres. Generally, the definitions of sustainability matched the measures of sustainability and the spheres of knowledge. This results in high variation in definitions and measures across studies depending on which sphere or combination of spheres is emphasized. Recent studies are applying complex indicators of sustainability that cross all three spheres, thereby addressing the limitations of using a reductionist approach to measure the complexity of studying of multiple intersecting and overlapping land uses. This important trend will support the comparison of current land-use practices to sustainable goals and facilitate comparison across land uses. The development and incorporation of theoretical frameworks are generally absent from these studies limiting the generalizability across study sites.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Gibbes, C., Hopkins, A. L., Diaz, A. I., & Jimenez-Osornio, J.

citation count

  • 16

complete list of authors

  • Gibbes, Cerian||Hopkins, Allison L||Diaz, Armando Inurreta||Jimenez-Osornio, Juan

publication date

  • January 2020