Large-scale land exploitation to jumpstart backward economies is often accompanied by massive environmental impacts. The broad concepts of productivity-oriented ‘bio-economy’ and conservation-oriented ‘eco-economy’ were proposed to transform exploitative land-based economies. Taking cases in Borneo as core examples, this paper explores 10 transformative strategies for sustainability: boosting upstream productivity of cash crops, activating under-utilised low carbon (ULC) land for production, upgrading and diversifying downstream activities, branding for more values (industrial), establishing new domestic demand for bio-resources, creating values for carbon and ecosystem services, enhancing agro-ecological resilience, establishing eco-based tertiary sectors, branding for more values (smallholders), and encouraging self-sufficient farming. Generally, utility-based development strategies with wealth creation as the centre of policymaking are inadequate to repair the previous environmental damage. Likewise, strategies that prioritise restoration have shown a limited contribution to economic growth as observed in the case of Borneo. The interconnected nature of economic productivity and conservation means that no single strategy is a perfect solution but a combination of them may produce a better outcome. While integrated landscape analysis that combines land-use models and economic analyses can facilitate understanding of the systems, in-depth area studies are necessary to capture the more subtle ‘human factors’ like socio-political dynamics. The existence of multiple stakeholders with different interests and values means that an ‘optimal’ combination would be a result of political negotiations rather than scientific investigations. To design and also effectively execute the strategies, communication, collaboration and co-production of knowledge between scientific communities and various stakeholders is imperative.