BLOG: Needs and Wants – Do the UN Sustainable Development Goals know the difference? By Aada Vihanta

We all have needs and wants, but when it comes to sustainable development, making difference between these two terms is crucial. Abraham Maslow (1954, 80-92) says people have deficiency needs and growth-needs. Deficiency needs are things inevitable for living (food, water, protection etc.). After fulfilling those needs we can move to growth-needs which respond to human’s need for self-actualization. (Maslow 1954).

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals define new millennium development goals. The basic targets are eradicating poverty, achieving equality and making sure everyone has access to basic needs in accordance to sustainable, sustain and inclusive development. The contradiction in SDGs is that they don’t properly define what are basic needs. Without defining them, SDGs allow that everyone can define their own basic needs. The problem is that what people define as needs varies a lot depending on the area and the standard of living there. It leads to situation where rich can be rich and poor will stay poor. The western consumer culture has obscured our understanding of needs and wants. That means we easily include more things to our basic needs than people in the poorer areas. What we think as needs, are somewhere else wants.

The SDGs take into account the boundaries set by the environment. They admit the environmental problems are caused mostly because of over-consumption and we have to change our lifestyle. Environment should be taken seriously into account because it can be classified as basic need. That’s because it’s something we can’t live without and it’s inevitable to our lives. However, SDGs target to development which allows the continue of growth. On the contrary, it seems we have to keep on consuming because SDGs aim at increasing economic productivity. But how is it possible to keep on consuming and at the same time protect the environment? If we go on like this, we can’t meet the environmental limits. And if we fail to protect the environment, we can’t eradicate poverty or achieve any other targets described. The consequences of environmental destruction impinge most badly to the poor. (Woodward 2015).

The SDGs are trying to find a compromise between our consumer culture and protecting of the environment. It’s hard to change our lifestyle because our whole society is based on growth and consumerism. The SDGs suggest we have to create green jobs and green economy which remain in the boundaries of environment. The new goals are optimistic and maybe even impossible to achieve. We have to be prepared for the possibility that trying to achieve sustainable, sustain and inclusive growth and society isn’t going to be enough to protect our planet (Gough 2013, 199-200).



Gough, Ian (2013). Climate change, social policy, and global governance. Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy, 29, 185-203.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harpers&Brothers.

Woodward, David (2015). “Incrementum and Absurdum: Global Growth, Inequality and Poverty Eradication in a Carbon-constrained World.” World Economic Review.

Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from