In the English-speaking world, the term "socio-ecological transformation" was mostly used with a different meaning in the 1970s. At that time, "socio-ecological transformation" described the historical transformation of individual countries from agricultural cultures to industrial societies. From the 1980s onward, the term was gradually used in its current sense: "socio-economic transformation" as a description of current (and future) change toward a more sustainable society.


The "Expert Group on the Global Economy and Social Ethics," which has been advising the German Bishops' Conference since 1989, uses the term "socio-ecological transformation" to emphasize that the transformation to a sustainable society will only succeed if social and ecological concerns are given equal consideration. An efficient economy is part of this concept, so one could also speak of a "socio-ecological-economic transformation," but a strong economy is not an end in itself here, but should serve people and nature.