Defining floors and ceilings: the contribution of human needs theory

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49 Citations (SciVal)


This article argues that a theory of human needs is essential to buttress and give content to the concept of consumption corridors. In particular it enables us to, first, define a safe, just, and sustainable space for humanity, and second, to decompose and recompose consumption based on a distinction between necessities and luxuries. After an introduction, the article is divided into four parts. The first compares different concepts of human needs and concentrates on universalizable need theories. The second presents a method for agreeing on contextual need satisfiers, and the third discusses current research identifying the floors of poverty and necessities. A fourth section then sets out how sustainable needs can underpin the upper bound of the corridor and how this ceiling might be measured in income and consumption terms. However, once we move from a national to a global perspective a profound dilemma is encountered as rich country corridors diverge from a global consumption corridor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-219
Number of pages12
JournalSustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date5 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020


  • ceilings
  • democratic dialogue
  • ecological constraints
  • luxuries
  • maximum income
  • necessities
  • Needs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science(all)


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