How does cooperation relate to sustainability?

Cooperation is defined as 'an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action.'

Individual action on behalf of a larger system may be coerced (forced), voluntary (freely chosen), or even unintentional, and consequently individuals and groups might act in concert even though they have almost nothing in common as regards interests or goals. Examples of that can be found in market trade, military wars, families, workplaces, schools and prisons, and more generally any institution or organisation of which individuals are part (out of own choice, by law, or forced). The reality is that achieving sustainability goals is not possible without the cooperation of people, governments, business and industry. Ideally this cooperation would take the form of voluntary cooperation rather than coerced, though the latter may occur through something as seemingly innocuous as enforcing a company policy.

Cooperation needs to occur at the following levels:


International cooperation can encompass various understandings but in its essence is about the interaction of persons or groups of persons representing various nations and/or NGOs in the pursuit of a common goal or interest. It works to enhance multilateral responses to global problems, including: conflict, humanitarian crises, and recovery; international security challenges, including weapons proliferation and the changing balance of power; and resource scarcity and climate change.


As with international cooperation, national cooperation sees stakeholders working together at a national level to achieve common goals and objectives. This level of cooperation can occur through many avenues. NGOs are often well suited to national cooperation and indeed are often a force for change when rallying the people across a country. Australian Conservation Foundation, GetUp! and Australian Youth Climate Coalition are good examples of national NGOs.


At the local level, cooperation is about how communities work together to achieve change for improved environmental, social and economical outcomes. This is often seen in the form of local community groups and activities such as Bushcare, Landcare and Collaborative Consumption and represents people coming together to achieve common goals. Local cooperation can is also achieved through intergovernmental cooperation. Intergovernmental cooperation between and among cities, counties, towns and villages often produces less expensive and more efficient local government services. For example, mergers of similar service activities can provide substantial cost savings when administrative and equipment duplication is reduced. Also there are significant advantages when governmental entities work with business and industry within their local areas when formulating planning and strategic directions.  This collaborative planning helps to ensure that expansion, service provision, risk reduction and benefits are maximised while minimising impact to the environment.

Key questions for this area

If you are studying or teaching about cooperation, or are looking to add content to your unit, the following are some key questions you should be able to answer and/or consider:
  • What are the challenges and opportunities associated with cooperation at any level?
  • Are there platforms that currently exist at each level to assist in attaining cooperation?
  • What alternatives exist, if any, that will assist in reaching sustainability?

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, check out our resources for inspiration.

Content owner: Office of the Vice Chancellor Last updated: 31 Oct 2019 4:14pm

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