Marta Giulia Baldi, Albert Merino, Romano Tobias Wyss
Over the past ten years, the Green Economy (GE) concept has gained momentum in both academia and policy-making arenas, leading to international programs in diverse sectors and driving national agendas all over the world. The concept is however highly controversial, partly due to its theoretical blurriness. The aims of this article are to shed light on the conceptual ambiguities surrounding the GE and to clarify its distinctive components. More concretely, the paper aims at understanding what GE definitions have in common as a conceptual whole (that is, which key features do they share?), and what makes them different to each other. For these purposes, the present study relies on an extensive review of both academic and grey literatures. Such a review yielded 95 GE definitions, as well as 45 definitions of Green Growth (GG), which is often interchangeably used with the former. All the definitions were methodically translated into a coded format thanks to a conceptual framework inductively developed by the research team. They were subsequently analyzed through descriptive and inferential statistics, as well as network analysis. Results provide the basis for a common meta-understanding of the GE concept. Like Sustainable Development (SD), the GE is a multidimensional notion, whose focus is on the potential trade-offs and synergies between economic and environmental dimensions (without ignoring social issues). The results uncover several discourses underlying the GE narrative, such as “econocentric incrementalism”, “unlimited eco-efficiency” and “transformative GE”. The analysis outlines several key cleaving elements discriminating GE definitions, like the focus on either well-being or economic growth, or the consideration or not of environmental limits. Finally, GE definitions are put into a broader perspective according to their potential as theoretical backgrounds for handling the social-ecological challenges posed by the Anthropocene.