Nowadays we can often hear that we should think sustainable, act sustainable and live sustainable. In general – everything should be more sustainable. But what does “sustainable” actually mean and which advantages does this concept bring to the world?
What exactly does sustainability mean?
When we speak of sustainability, we have to consider two considerably different meanings of the word. In everyday language “sustainable” means that something persists or has a long-lasting effect. The word acquired its second meaning with the global environmental debate since starting with the World War II. Sustainability is a principle of resource usage, in which current needs are met through resource consumption without depriving future generations of their livelihood.
The term means “long-lasting effect” in its original sense. This definition is rooted in forestry and was first mentioned in the Saxon Forest Regulations in 1560 in order to ensure continuous use despite the high demand for wood in the mines.
The “sustainable management of the forests” prevents the entire forest clearing and guarantees the natural regeneration ability of the forest, because only as much wood should be removed as it can grow back. The forester Hans Carl von Carlowitz coined the term and in 1713 and described the triangle of ecological balance, economic security and social justice. This principle was later transferred to other natural resources people use.
With the definitions by the World Commission for Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission), set up by the United Nations in 1983, the Club of Rome and also the Enquete-Commission of the German Bundestag, the word sustainability has become a concept, namely that of “sustainable development”.
What is “sustainable development”?
The “Council for Sustainable Development”, appointed by the Federal Government of Germany, summarizes the basic ideas for sustainable development with the following words:
“Sustainable development means considering environmental aspects on an equal footing with social and economic aspects. Doing business in a future-oriented way means that we have to leave our children and grandchildren intact in an ecological, social and economic structure. One is not possible without the other.”
Agenda 21 is a United Nations action program that was adopted in 1992 by 172 countries at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. The agenda should set the guidelines for the 21st century above all for sustainable development. Government officials and many NGOs attended the conference. The preamble to Agenda 21 emphasizes that international cooperation is crucial for sustainable development:
“However, by uniting environmental and development interests and paying more attention to them, we can succeed in meeting basic needs, improving living standards for all, greater protection and better management of ecosystems, and a secure, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own, while we can do it together: in a global partnership that is geared towards sustainable development.”
How is the principle of sustainability anchored in international environmental policy?
The principle of sustainability was first written down in 1713. However, only with the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the largest summit conference of the 20th century, sustainable development has become an idea/a goal that gradually entered into the minds and actions of people, administrations and companies. The trigger was the realization that there can be no healthy society or economy in a world with so much poverty and environmental damage. Economic and social development must change the course and be more considerate of the environment. The aim is to reconcile the satisfaction of basic human needs with a high-quality environment and a healthy economy for all people on earth. No nation can do this on its own. Rather, a global partnership for sustainable development is required.
The fact is: we have only one earth. If we continue to destroy it, we will destroy the living space of these and future generations. If we want to turn things around, we have to move more. There are many ways. And even if it cannot work without politics, we should not wait for it!
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