Purpose: This study provides a review of the historical development of ecological literature and discusses the potential theoretical influences this literature has on the conceptualisation of sustainability. In addition, it evaluates philosophical ideas embraced in ecological literature to enrich our understanding of sustainability.
Design/methodology/approach: A chronological literature review of significant ecological literature and different concepts of sustainability developed since the Industrial Revolution. This is followed by a discussion on the conceptual linkages between both areas.
Findings: The ecological literature contributes to the conceptualisation process of sustainability by providing views from different perspectives. At one stage ecological thoughts integrated the philosophy of systems thinking, which had a profound impact on the conceptualisation of sustainability. However, current mainstream sustainable development approaches depart from the perspective of ecosystem holism. Ecological literature is still unsuccessful in alerting society to attach adequate importance towards the social cause of ecological crisis.
Originality/value: It proposes that the ecological literature represents a reconsideration of sustainability using integrated approaches embracing systems thinking, ecological thinking and broader social contexts.