This article contributes to the critical review of the sociological debate on sustainability
by focusing on the contested relationship between Ecological Modernization (EM) and
Sustainable Development (SD). In order to do so the article is organized in two main sections.
In the first section the key literature arguing against the conflation of EM and SD is
analyzed and crucial differences between the two theoretical paradigms and policy discourses
are highlighted. In the second part, the argument for the distinction between EM and SD
is tested against the literature investigating the social implications of the green energy transition
at the local level. In particular, two emerging research streams are considered, namely
research on the local effects of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in developing
countries and research on social acceptance of renewable energy facilities by local communities
in industrialized countries. With regard to this literature major sources of tension between
EM and SD are highlighted, especially concerning justice, public participation and risk management.
Accordingly, the article argues that in the emerging "energy and society" research
field the conflation between EM and SD is counterproductive for both analytical and policy