Ecological modernization is an optimistic environmental discourse. It says that it is possible and desirable to both develop economically / socially and at the same time conserve the environment. This can be achieved by technological advances that help to reduce the consumption of resources by increasing efficiency. (See also the more familiar expression 'sustainable development.'

The free market as a fundament is not questioned. This contrasts with many environmental movements that regard free trade as part of the issue. The state is seen as the enabler for the markets that help produce the technological advances through competition.

Critics argue that ecological modernization will fail to conserve the environment. It is questioned whether technological advances alone can achieve conservation and protection. Many technological improvements are currently feasible but not in use due to economic reasons: the variant most friendly to the environment is not always the most viable one. Finally the achievements of ecological modernization are unspecific. This may not be an issue for many environmental problems, but for instance the imminent threat of extinction to a particular species will need a more specific intervention.