Sustainable development is a contested concept, with theories shaped by people's and organizations' different worldviews, which in turn influence how issues are formulated and actions proposed. It is usually presented as the intersection between environment, society and economy, which are conceived of as separate although connected entities. We would argue that these are not unified entities: rather they are fractured and multi-layered and can be considered at different spatial levels. The economy is often given priority in policies and the environment is viewed as apart from humans. They are interconnected, with the economy dependent on society and the environment while human existence and society are dependent on, and within the environment. The separation of environment, society and economy often leads to a narrow techno-scientific approach, while issues to do with society that are most likely to challenge the present socio-economic structure are often marginalized, in particular the sustainability of communities and the maintenance of cultural diversity. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and ERP Environment