Institute for Sustainable Innovation

Economic Transition and Environmental Conservation:

Sociocultural Aspects

Georgy Fomenko and Marina Fomenko

Economic Transition and Environmental Conservation: Socio-Cultural Aspects. Costa Rica: Institute for Sustainable Innovation, 2017.

ISBN xxxxxxx

This book summarizes the experience of applying a socio-cultural methodology of environmental management at various levels of territorial organization (local, regional, Russian administrative regions, federal and national) in Russia. The materials presented offer insight into the institutional aspects of environmental work, expand the tool kit of environmental regulation and demonstrate approaches to a gradual eco-balancing of the economy, curtailing conflicts and discrepancies between the global goals of sustainable development and the interests of local communities and businesses.

The book is designed for a wide audience of experts who have a professional interest in issues of environmental management and conservation.

© Georgy Fomenko, Marina Fomenko, 2016, 2018.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.

Although every precaution has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information contained herein, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for damages that may result from the use of information contained within.

Interior & Cover Design: Susana Cardona <­>

Cover photography: «RoseStudio/Shutterstock»

Publisher: Institute for Sustainable Innovation, Costa Rica

ISBN: 978-0-9985796-2-7


BAT – Best Available Technology

EIP – Eco-Industrial Park

ERS – Earth remote sensing

EU – European Union

EMGM – Environmental management goal matrix

FFI – Federal State Budget Institution

GATT – General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

GDP – Gross Domestic Product

GIS – Geographic Information System

NDP –Net Domestic Product

OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

SD – sustainable development

SDG – sustainable development goals

SEIS – Shared Environmental Information System

SEA – Strategic Environmental Assessment

SEEA – System of Environmental-Economic Accounting

SNA – System of National Accounts

SPNA – Specially Protected Natural Area

SPZ – Sanitary Protection Zone

TCSEP – Territorial Comprehensive Scheme of Environment Protection

TIC – Territorial-Industrial Complex

UN / UNO – United Nations Organization

UNECE – United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

WTO – World Trade Organization



This book covers a 25-year period of research, during which numerous organizations and individuals have rendered valuable assistance and greatly contributed to generating the ideas, which are expounded here. 

The materials of the book could not have been prepared and published without the extensive support of the staff of Cadaster Institute: Konstantin Loshadkin, Anastasiya Mikhailova, Yelena Arabova, Alexander Borodkin, Olga Ladygina, Elena Osipova, Anna Luzanova, Svetlana Smirnova, Eduard Goge, Vladimir Petrov, and Lubov Zemskova. Our development of a socio-cultural methodology of environmental management owes much to the work of Lev Kniazkov who masterminded specific surveys and projects. Invaluable advice was provided by Vladimir Shadrin, Timofey Kolpakov, Mikhail Borovitsky, Anatoly Parfenov, and many others. 

Major methodological contributions to the organization of practical research were provided by Henrietta Privalovskaya, Nikolay Lukianchikov, Budimir Poyarkov, Alexander Luty, Yuliy Lipets, and Renat Perelet. We extend special gratitude to Professor Anil Markandia whose insights and ideas have been of great value for the work and development of Cadaster Institute, providing foundations for applying the methods of environmental-economic accounting beyond the organization itself and in Russia as a whole. Jans-Juergen Taurit made an invaluable contribution to the humanistic approach, which is at the heart of our school of thought. His views on urban development oriented to the needs of ordinary people in their everyday life have given us a better understanding of the enduring significance of the person and the fundamental importance of a humane approach when creating a value system for sustainable development. 

Our research received substantial support from the ideas and suggestions of our colleagues, offered at various stages of the work, namely, Sergey Bobilev, Vladimir Zakharov, Arkadiy Tishkov, Tatiana Runova, Luisa Nochevkina, Valeriy Pularkin, Enrid Alayev, Mikhail Kozeltsev, Elena Nikitina, and Andrey Terentiev. 

Several of the projects, the results of which are presented here, were commissioned and sponsored by the Russian Federal Government (Ministry of Natural Resources, Federal Statistics Service, Federal Service for Environmental Control, Ministry of Agriculture) and their territorial departments, and by regional and municipal administrative bodies in Kaliningrad, Kaluga, Kemerovo, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan, Saratov, Tomsk, Yaroslavl Regions, Kamchatka Region, Krasnoyarsk Region, and the Republics of Buryatia, Karelia and North Ossetia-Alania. 

Valuable expert advice was also provided at various stages by Alexander Averchenkov, Anatoliy Shevchuk, Alexander Adam, Rustem Mamin, Andrey Treivish, Nikolay Koronkevich, Olga Medvedeva, Alexander Golub, Dmitriy Zimin, Vladimir Revezensky, Mikhail Buyanov, Elena Bondarchuk, Margarita Tsibulnikova, Vladimir Morozov, Valeriy Panov, Elena Anashkina, Alla Shvets, and many others. 

We are much indebted to everyone who encouraged us to reflect, ask questions and search for answers. First and foremost, these are our parents and teachers, the people who helped us to become what we are. Special thanks are due to Valentina Lisenkova who laid the foundations of our commitment to this country and its people, taught us to quest continuously and to enjoy creative work. And, finally, we are grateful to our daughter, Valentina Fomenko, who, has always supported and inspired us with her energy and love. 




There is no more important challenge than the preservation of life on Earth. This challenge can only be met by an integrated, trans-disciplinary approach, which treats any evolving complex system – including emergent socio-cultural systems – as a set of coherent, developing, interactive processes that manifest themselves through time as globally sustainable structures, quite distinct from the equilibrium or rigidity of technological structures (Janish, 1980). Recent advances in science and technology mean that the sophisticated technical systems, which are implemented in the social and natural environment, penetrate information, cognitive, bio- and nanotechnological spaces in a manner that is increasingly broad and uncontrolled, leading to unexpected and often undesirable synergetic effects with a range of unpredictable consequences. Hence a state of instability in society and the appearance of a universal discourse, where an uncertain future generates and verbalizes new forebodings and anticipations (Aseyeva & Pirozhkova, 2015).

The final document adopted by the 70th UN General Assembly (September 2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals set the task of harmonizing national development priorities with a global agenda for the survival of humanity. This presupposes the general acceptance of supreme environmental values, which lend universal human significance to efforts to protect and preserve the natural world. Each individual then has the opportunity, by comparing the ethical standards, which currently govern the relationship between Society and Nature in our world, with global ethical codes such as the Earth Charter, to see the vector of reasonable institutional change. Further, a capacity is provided for identifying the institutional constraints, which limit the application of environmental management tools at a specific time and in a specific place. 

The research, which has been carried out regarding a corridor for institutional changes in the environmental sphere in Russia (Fomenko G., 2004; Fomenko G., 2011; Fomenko G., 2014), shows that such changes depend both on the ideas about the future, which are dominant in society, and on specifics of the basic institutional matrix. Now, more than ever, the smooth transition of Russian society to sustainable development and a green economy require resolute and systematic efforts by elites to expand the existing socio-culturally determined range of possible solutions. This is a vital, but extremely complex and “delicate” task, requiring due respect for the cultural codes that can lead the country to a decent future, while identifying those codes, which impede sustainable development and impair the competitiveness of Russian society at the global level. 

It is a sad fact that, in the course of the 20th century, Russia gradually lost many of its traditional institutions, which were oriented to protection of the natural environment, particularly institutions based on local self-government.

Legislative regulation of natural resource use (formal institutions for the protection of the environment) ceased to function in Russia during the 20th century, when the abolition of private ownership in urban and rural communities had the institutional effect of reviving much older archetypes, characteristic of the pre-Romanov Muscovite principality. The effect of this was to put a brake on the process of modernization. 

Soviet legislation was intended as an entirely new edifice. But, during the Soviet period, new institutions for natural resource management (good and bad) became embedded in historically determined matrixes (one cannot abolish informal institutions!) and became a part of the Russian cultural landscape, reflecting the pre-Soviet, autocratic model of government. The historical paradox is that the legislation in place in Russia today is a continuation of the Soviet legal system, which, in many respects, was more conservative than its imperial predecessor. 

The interrelationship of society and nature in Russia’s institutional space is defined by the specifics of Russia’s culture of resource use, which remains extensive, i.e. based on the wasteful use of resources. In any critical situation, an extraordinary squandering of human and natural resources tends to assert itself – an attitude of “victory at any cost”. Surveys of public opinion have shown that Russia’s enormous size is a source of pride to most of its population[1]. Russia has traditionally lacked volunteer-based institutions and most horizontal forms of environmental cooperation have been poorly developed. The traditional rural institutional framework, based on communities (the “obshchina”) was destroyed in the 20th century when the enslavement of the peasantry assumed greater proportions than ever before, albeit in a different form. This made it harder to achieve collective, compromise solutions. The tendency to see the world in terms of a permanent conflict between good and evil, without any search for compromise or a happy medium, far from being overcome, actually grew stronger during the Soviet period. Ever greater socio-economic instability worldwide may lead to the neglect of environmental responsibility, as the planning horizons of those who hold power over natural resources become more narrow (Fomenko G., 2014).

In this context, the institutional corridor for change in the environmental sphere tends to shrink. Control and administrative government regulation remain the most efficacious tools, and their development readily borrows institutional ideas from international experience. Economic tools based on sustainable ownership rights are of limited use in present conditions in Russia, and this complicates institutional changes in environmental management, such as the application of internationally accepted methods for the assessment of damage to the environment. In this context, it is clear why penalties based on a standard costing method are so popular in Russia today. As regards environmental damage inflicted in the past, uncertain ownership rights often leave current taxpayers, rather than the original perpetrators, to pick up the bill, since the original perpetrators are almost impossible to identify. 

Environmental activities in the context of sustainable development, based on the post-non-classical understanding of rational resource use, set their objective parameters on the basis of ethical values, which are a benchmark for assessing reality. One must also bear in mind the considerable dynamism and instability of the Society–Nature system, especially during periods of crisis, which are characterized by random and unpredictable effects, greater impact from the events of social life, and the appearance of new actors who seek to satisfy their aims and desires and who are forced to make preferential or acceptable decisions (Streletsky, 2014).

In this situation, special attention should be paid to a “management by objectives” approach at all levels of territorial organization, with particular emphasis on its teleological aspect. The setting of objectives is critical for any management process, including natural resource management and protection of the environment. It is important to note the much greater status and impact on everyday life, which are accorded, in the Russian spiritual tradition, to values. This is in contrast with the priority accorded to interests in the western tradition and it entails special attention, when designing institutional change in Russia, to value-based standards, determined by the culture-specific system of values and beliefs. Now, as never before, we must work to rebuild the humanity of Russian society, severely damaged by the Bolsheviks’ demolition of the old value system and their aborted attempt to build a new system based on atheism and an often-vulgar understanding of materialism. 

With Russia’s security and sustainable development at stake, we need a systemic approach to the green modernization of the country, based on economic and social change. Cultural modernization sets special challenges, since institutions (both favourable and unfavourable for national development) are imprinted in culture. They are not only long-lasting, but may appear to the collective consciousness to be untouchable. Any attempts to rapidly demolish cultural traditions bear serious social risks: the limited result that may be obtained in terms of economic growth is quickly cancelled out by subsequent losses, as convincingly demonstrated by the Maddison dataset.

Our research has convinced us that populism and belief in miracles are dangerous obstacles on the path to sustainable development. What works best, despite its difficulties, is the gradual approach recommend by the ancient Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. World history and Russian history offer examples (albeit few) of successful modernization initiated by elites, purposefully adjusting cultural codes without the loss of national identity. Most instructive for Russia is the experience of the BRICS countries, particularly China, where cultural modernization, including that of the Society–Nature relationship, has been systematically implemented in recent decades, taking account of national socio-cultural specifics, consolidating traditional cultural codes while rejecting those codes, which hinder modernization processes based on sustainable development.

 We would state in conclusion that acceptance of the systemic character of green modernization and of the crucial role played in environmental activity by moral motives, together with a post-non-classical understanding of environmental management, are changing the conceptions of national transition to sustainable development. We must grasp the significance of a humane approach to the greening of ethical standards, because a caring attitude towards the natural world, to animals and plants, is inseparable from respect for the individual and love of the world around us. Mechanisms of environmental regulation that regard people as passive objects of government control, as means for achieving goals beyond their comprehension, have never been effective anywhere, in either the long or short term. The socio-cultural specifics of territories must be taken into account in every project for rational resource use and conservation. This is what we call a socio-cultural approach. 

[1] Opinion polls conducted by the Levada-Centre in 2015.

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