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Sustainable development

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services based upon which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resources are used to continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

While the modern concept of sustainable development is derived mostly from the 1987 Brundtland Report, it is also rooted in earlier ideas about sustainable forest management and twentieth-century environmental concerns. As the concept developed, it has shifted its focus more towards the economic development, social development and environmental protection for future generations. It has been suggested that "the term sustainability should be viewed as humanitys target goal of human-ecosystem equilibrium, while sustainable development refers to the holistic approach and temporal processes that lead us to the end point of sustainability". Modern economies are endeavoring to reconcile ambitious economic development and obligations of preserving natural resources and ecosystems, as the two are usually seen as of conflicting nature. Instead of holding climate change commitments and other sustainability measures as a remedy to economic development, turning and leveraging them into market opportunities will do greater good. The economic development brought by such organized principles and practices in an economy is called Managed Sustainable Development MSD.

The concept of sustainable development has been, and still is, subject to criticism, including the question of what is to be sustained in sustainable development. It has been argued that there is no such thing as a sustainable use of a non-renewable resource, since any positive rate of exploitation will eventually lead to the exhaustion of earths finite stock; this perspective renders the Industrial Revolution as a whole unsustainable. It has also been argued that the meaning of the concept has opportunistically been stretched from conservation management to economic development, and that the Brundtland Report promoted nothing but a business as usual strategy for world development, with an ambiguous and insubstantial concept attached as a public relations slogan see below.


1. History of sustainability

Sustainability can be defined as the practice of maintaining world processes of productivity indefinitely - natural or human-made - by replacing resources used with resources of equal or greater value without degrading or endangering natural biotic systems. Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social, political, and economic challenges faced by humanity. Sustainability Science is the study of the concepts of sustainable development and environmental science. There is an additional focus on the present generations responsibility to regenerate, maintain and improve planetary resources for use by future generations.

Sustainable development has its roots in ideas about sustainable forest management which were developed in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. In response to a growing awareness of the depletion of timber resources in England, John Evelyn argued that "sowing and planting of trees had to be regarded as a national duty of every landowner, in order to stop the destructive over-exploitation of natural resources" in his 1662 essay Sylva. In 1713 Hans Carl von Carlowitz, a senior mining administrator in the service of Elector Frederick Augustus I of Saxony published Sylvicultura economics, a 400-page work on forestry. Building upon the ideas of Evelyn and French minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, von Carlowitz developed the concept of managing forests for sustained yield. His work influenced others, including Alexander von Humboldt and Georg Ludwig Hartig, eventually leading to the development of a science of forestry. This, in turn, influenced people like Gifford Pinchot, first head of the US Forest Service, whose approach to forest management was driven by the idea of wise use of resources, and Aldo Leopold whose land ethic was influential in the development of the environmental movement in the 1960s.

Following the publication of Rachel Carsons Silent Spring in 1962, the developing environmental movement drew attention to the relationship between economic growth and development and environmental degradation. Kenneth E. Boulding in his influential 1966 essay The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth identified the need for the economic system to fit itself to the ecological system with its limited pools of resources. One of the first uses of the term sustainable in the contemporary sense was by the Club of Rome in 1972 in its classic report on the Limits to Growth, written by a group of scientists led by Dennis and Donella Meadows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Describing the desirable "state of global equilibrium", the authors wrote: "We are searching for a model output that represents a world system that is sustainable without sudden and uncontrolled collapse and capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of all of its people."

Following the Club of Rome report, an MIT research group prepared ten days of hearings on "Growth and Its Implication for the Future" Roundtable Press, 1973 for the US Congress, the first hearings ever held on sustainable development. William Flynn Martin, David Dodson Gray, and Elizabeth Gray prepared the hearings under the Chairmanship of Congressman John Dingell.

In 1980 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature published a world conservation strategy that included one of the first references to sustainable development as a global priority and introduced the term "sustainable development". Two years later, the United Nations World Charter for Nature raised five principles of conservation by which human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged. In 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development released the report Our Common Future, commonly called the Brundtland Report. The report included what is now one of the most widely recognised definitions of sustainable development.

Since the Brundtland Report, the concept of sustainable development has developed beyond the initial intergenerational framework to focus more on the goal of "socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth". In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development published the Earth Charter, which outlines the building of a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The action plan Agenda 21 for sustainable development identified information, integration, and participation as key building blocks to help countries achieve development that recognises these interdependent pillars. It emphasises that in sustainable development everyone is a user and provider of information. It stresses the need to change from old sector-centered ways of doing business to new approaches that involve cross-sectoral co-ordination and the integration of environmental and social concerns into all development processes. Furthermore, Agenda 21 emphasises that broad public participation in decision making is a fundamental prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.

Under the principles of the United Nations Charter the Millennium Declaration identified principles and treaties on sustainable development, including economic development, social development and environmental protection. Broadly defined, sustainable development is a systems approach to growth and development and to manage natural, produced, and social capital for the welfare of their own and future generations. The term sustainable development as used by the United Nations incorporates both issues associated with land development and broader issues of human development such as education, public health, and standard of living.

A 2013 study concluded that sustainability reporting should be reframed through the lens of four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.


2. Education for Sustainable Development ESD

Education for Sustainable Development ESD is defined as education that encourages changes in knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to enable a more sustainable and equitable society. ESD aims to empower and equip current and future generations to meet the needs using a balanced and integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.


2.1. Education for Sustainable Development ESD Concept

The concept of ESD was born from the need for education to address the growing and changing environmental challenges facing the planet. In order to do this, education must change to provide the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower learners to contribute to sustainable development. At the same time, education must be strengthened in all agendas, programmes, and activities that promote sustainable development. Sustainable development must be integrated into education and education must be integrated into sustainable development. ESD promotes the integration of these critical sustainability issues in local and global contexts into the curriculum to prepare learners to understand and respond to the changing world. ESD aims to produce learning outcomes that include core competencies such as critical and systematic thinking, collaborative decision-making, and taking responsibility for the present and future generations. Since traditional single-directional delivery of knowledge is not sufficient to inspire learners to take action as responsible citizens, ESD entails rethinking the learning environment, physical and virtual. The learning environment itself must adapt and apply a whole-institution approach to embed the philosophy of sustainable development. Building the capacity of educators and policy support at international, regional, national and local levels helps drive changes in learning institutions. Empowered youth and local communities interacting with education institutions become key actors in advancing sustainable development.


2.2. Education for Sustainable Development ESD UN Decade for Sustainable Development

The launch of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014 started a global movement to reorient education to address the challenges of sustainable development. Building on the achievement of the Decade, stated in the Aichi-Nagoya Declaration on ESD, UNESCO endorsed the Global Action Programme on ESD GAP in the 37th session of its General Conference. Acknowledged by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/69/211 and launched at the UNESCO World Conference on ESD in 2014, the GAP aims to scale-up actions and good practices. UNESCO has a major role, along with its partners, in bringing about key achievements to ensure the principles of ESD are promoted through formal, non-formal and informal education.

International recognition of ESD as the key enabler for sustainable development is growing steadily. The role of ESD was recognized in three major UN summits on sustainable development: the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development UNCED in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development WSSD in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development UNCSD in Rio de Janeiro. Other key global agreements such as the Paris Agreement Article 12 also recognize the importance of ESD. Today, ESD is arguably at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals SDGs United Nations, 2015. The SDGs recognize that all countries must stimulate action in the following key areas - people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership - in order to tackle the global challenges that are crucial for the survival of humanity. ESD is explicitly mentioned in Target 4.7 of SDG4, which aims to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development and is understood as an important means to achieve all the other 16 SDGs UNESCO, 2017.


3. Sub-groups

Sustainable development can be thought of in terms of three spheres, dimensions, domains or pillars, i.e. the environment, the economy and society. The three-sphere framework was initially proposed by the economist Rene Passet in 1979. It has also been worded as "economic, environmental and social" or "ecology, economy and equity". This has been expanded by some authors to include a fourth pillar of culture, institutions or governance, or alternatively reconfigured as four domains of the social - ecology, economics, politics and culture, thus bringing economics back inside the social, and treating ecology as the intersection of the social and the natural.


3.1. Sub-groups Environmental or ecological

The ecological stability of human settlements is part of the relationship between humans and their natural, social and built environments. Also termed human ecology, this broadens the focus of sustainable development to include the domain of human health. Fundamental human needs such as the availability and quality of air, water, food and shelter are also the ecological foundations for sustainable development; addressing public health risk through investments in ecosystem services can be a powerful and transformative force for sustainable development which, in this sense, extends to all species.

Environmental sustainability concerns the natural environment and how it endures and remains diverse and productive. Since natural resources are derived from the environment, the state of air, water, and the climate are of particular concern. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report outlines current knowledge about scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change, and lists options for adaptation and mitigation. Environmental sustainability requires society to design activities to meet human needs while preserving the life support systems of the planet. This, for example, entails using water sustainably, utilizing renewable energy, and sustainable material supplies e.g. harvesting wood from forests at a rate that maintains the biomass and biodiversity.

An unsustainable situation occurs when natural capital the sum total of natures resources is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses natures resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. Inherently the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life. Such degradation on a global scale should imply an increase in human death rate until population falls to what the degraded environment can support. If the degradation continues beyond a certain tipping point or critical threshold it would lead to eventual extinction for humanity.

Integral elements for a sustainable development are research and innovation activities. A telling example is the European environmental research and innovation policy, which aims at defining and implementing a transformative agenda to greening the economy and the society as a whole so to achieve a truly sustainable development. Research and innovation in Europe is financially supported by the programme Horizon 2020, which is also open to participation worldwide. A promising direction towards sustainable development is to design systems that are flexible and reversible.

Pollution of the public resources is really not a different action, it just is a reverse tragedy of the commons, in that instead of taking something out, something is put into the commons. When the costs of polluting the commons are not calculated into the cost of the items consumed, then it becomes only natural to pollute, as the cost of pollution is external to the cost of the goods produced and the cost of cleaning the waste before it is discharged exceeds the cost of releasing the waste directly into the commons. So, the only way to solve this problem is by protecting the ecology of the commons by making it, through taxes or fines, more costly to release the waste directly into the commons than would be the cost of cleaning the waste before discharge.

So, one can try to appeal to the ethics of the situation by doing the right thing as an individual, but in the absence of any direct consequences, the individual will tend to do what is best for the person and not what is best for the common good of the public. Once again, this issue needs to be addressed. Because, left unaddressed, the development of the commonly owned property will become impossible to achieve in a sustainable way. So, this topic is central to the understanding of creating a sustainable situation from the management of the public resources that are used for personal use.


3.2. Sub-groups Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture consists of environment friendly methods of farming that allow the production of crops or livestock without damage to human or natural systems. It involves preventing adverse effects to soil, water, biodiversity, surrounding or downstream resources - as well as to those working or living on the farm or in neighbouring areas. The concept of sustainable agriculture extends intergenerationally, passing on a conserved or improved natural resource, biotic, and economic base rather than one which has been depleted or polluted. Elements of sustainable agriculture include permaculture, agroforestry, mixed farming, multiple cropping, and crop rotation. It involves agricultural methods that do not undermine the environment, smart farming technologies that enhance a quality environment for humans to thrive and reclaiming and transforming deserts into farmlandsHerman Daly, 2017.

Numerous sustainability standards and certification systems exist, including organic certification, Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, Bird Friendly, and the Common Code for the Coffee Community 4C.


3.3. Sub-groups Environmental economics

The total environment includes not just the biosphere of earth, air, and water, but also human interactions with these things, with nature, and what humans have created as their surroundings.

As countries around the world continue to advance economically, they put a strain on the ability of the natural environment to absorb the high level of pollutants that are created as a part of this economic growth. Therefore, solutions need to be found so that the economies of the world can continue to grow, but not at the expense of the public good. In the world of economics the amount of environmental quality must be considered as limited in supply and therefore is treated as a scarce resource. This is a resource to be protected. One common way to analyze possible outcomes of policy decisions on the scarce resource is to do a cost-benefit analysis. This type of analysis contrasts different options of resource allocation and, based on an evaluation of the expected courses of action and the consequences of these actions, the optimal way to do so in the light of different policy goals can be elicited.

Benefit-cost analysis basically can look at several ways of solving a problem and then assigning the best route for a solution, based on the set of consequences that would result from the further development of the individual courses of action, and then choosing the course of action that results in the least amount of damage to the expected outcome for the environmental quality that remains after that development or process takes place. Further complicating this analysis are the interrelationships of the various parts of the environment that might be impacted by the chosen course of action. Sometimes it is almost impossible to predict the various outcomes of a course of action, due to the unexpected consequences and the amount of unknowns that are not accounted for in the benefit-cost analysis.


3.4. Sub-groups Energy

Sustainable energy is clean and can be used over a long period of time. Unlike fossil fuels and biofuels that provide the bulk of the worlds energy, renewable energy sources like hydroelectric, solar and wind energy produce far less pollution. Solar energy is commonly used on public parking meters, street lights and the roof of buildings. Wind power has expanded quickly, its share of worldwide electricity usage at the end of 2014 was 3.1%. Most of Californias fossil fuel infrastructures are sited in or near low-income communities, and have traditionally suffered the most from Californias fossil fuel energy system. These communities are historically left out during the decision-making process, and often end up with dirty power plants and other dirty energy projects that poison the air and harm the area. These toxicants are major contributors to health problems in the communities. As renewable energy becomes more common, fossil fuel infrastructures are replaced by renewables, providing better social equity to these communities. Overall, and in the long run, sustainable development in the field of energy is also deemed to contribute to economic sustainability and national security of communities, thus being increasingly encouraged through investment policies.


3.5. Sub-groups Manufacturing

Main article: Green manufacturing and Distributed manufacturing


3.6. Sub-groups Technology

One of the core concepts in sustainable development is that technology can be used to assist people to meet their developmental needs. Technology to meet these sustainable development needs is often referred to as appropriate technology, which is an ideological movement and its manifestations originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist E. F. Schumacher in his influential work Small Is Beautiful and now covers a wide range of technologies. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasise the technology as people-centered. Today appropriate technology is often developed using open source principles, which have led to Open-Source Appropriate Technology OSAT and thus many of the plans of the technology can be freely found on the Internet. OSAT has been proposed as a new model of enabling innovation for sustainable development.


3.7. Sub-groups Transport

Transportation is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It is said that one-third of all gases produced are due to transportation. Motorized transport also releases exhaust fumes that contain particulate matter which is hazardous to human health and a contributor to climate change.

Sustainable transport has many social and economic benefits that can accelerate local sustainable development. According to a series of reports by the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership LEDS GP, sustainable transport can help create jobs, improve commuter safety through investment in bicycle lanes and pedestrian pathways, make access to employment and social opportunities more affordable and efficient. It also offers a practical opportunity to save peoples time and household income as well as government budgets, making investment in sustainable transport a win-win opportunity.

Some Western countries are making transportation more sustainable in both long-term and short-term implementations. An example is the modification in available transportation in Freiburg, Germany. The city has implemented extensive methods of public transportation, cycling, and walking, along with large areas where cars are not allowed.

Since many Western countries are highly automobile-oriented, the main transit that people use is personal vehicles. About 80% of their travel involves cars. Therefore, California, is one of the highest greenhouse gases emitters in the United States. The federal government has to come up with some plans to reduce the total number of vehicle trips in order to lower greenhouse gases emission. Such as:

  • Increase the cost of car ownership and gas taxes through increased parking fees and tolls, encouraging people to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. This can produce a social equity problem, since lower income people usually drive older vehicles with lower fuel efficiency. Government can use the extra revenue collected from taxes and tolls to improve public transportation and benefit poor communities.
  • Improve public transit through the provision of larger coverage area in order to provide more mobility and accessibility, new technology to provide a more reliable and responsive public transportation network.
  • Encourage walking and biking through the provision of wider pedestrian pathway, bike share stations in downtowns, locate parking lots far from the shopping center, limit on street parking, slower traffic lane in downtown area.

Other states and nations have built efforts to translate knowledge in behavioral economics into evidence-based sustainable transportation policies.


3.8. Sub-groups Business

The most broadly accepted criterion for corporate sustainability constitutes a firms efficient use of natural capital. This eco-efficiency is usually calculated as the economic value added by a firm in relation to its aggregated ecological impact. This idea has been popularised by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development WBCSD under the following definition: "Eco-efficiency is achieved by the delivery of competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life, while progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity throughout the life-cycle to a level at least in line with the earths carrying capacity" DeSimone and Popoff, 1997: 47.

Similar to the eco-efficiency concept but so far less explored is the second criterion for corporate sustainability. Socio-efficiency describes the relation between a firms value added and its social impact. Whereas, it can be assumed that most corporate impacts on the environment are negative apart from rare exceptions such as the planting of trees this is not true for social impacts. These can be either positive e.g. corporate giving, creation of employment or negative. Depending on the type of impact socio-efficiency thus either tries to minimise negative social impacts i.e. accidents per value added or maximise positive social impacts i.e. donations per value added in relation to the value added.

Both eco-efficiency and socio-efficiency are concerned primarily with increasing economic sustainability. In this process they instrumentalise both natural and social capital aiming to benefit from win-win situations. However, as Dyllick and Hockerts point out the business case alone will not be sufficient to realise sustainable development. They point towards eco-effectiveness, socio-effectiveness, sufficiency, and eco-equity as four criteria that need to be met if sustainable development is to be reached.

CASI Global, New York "CSR & Sustainability together lead to sustainable development. CSR as in corporate social responsibility is not what you do with your profits, but is the way you make profits. This means CSR is a part of every department of the company value chain and not a part of HR / independent department. Sustainability as in effects towards Human resources, Environment and Ecology has to be measured within each department of the company." CASI Global


3.9. Sub-groups Income

At the present time, sustainable development can reduce poverty. Sustainable development reduces poverty through financial among other things, a balanced budget, environmental living conditions, and social including equality of income means.


3.10. Sub-groups Architecture

In sustainable architecture the recent movements of New Urbanism and New Classical architecture promote a sustainable approach towards construction, that appreciates and develops smart growth, architectural tradition and classical design. This in contrast to modernist and International Style architecture, as well as opposing to solitary housing estates and suburban sprawl, with long commuting distances and large ecological footprints. Both trends started in the 1980s. Sustainable architecture is predominantly relevant to the economics domain while architectural landscaping pertains more to the ecological domain.


3.11. Sub-groups Politics

A study concluded that social indicators and, therefore, sustainable development indicators, are scientific constructs whose principal objective is to inform public policy-making. The International Institute for Sustainable Development has similarly developed a political policy framework, linked to a sustainability index for establishing measurable entities and metrics. The framework consists of six core areas:

  • Measurement and assessment
  • Economic policy
  • Natural resource management
  • Climate change and energy
  • International trade and investment
  • Communication technologies.

The United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme has defined sustainable political development in a way that broadens the usual definition beyond states and governance. The political is defined as the domain of practices and meanings associated with basic issues of social power as they pertain to the organisation, authorisation, legitimation and regulation of a social life held in common. This definition is in accord with the view that political change is important for responding to economic, ecological and cultural challenges. It also means that the politics of economic change can be addressed. They have listed seven subdomains of the domain of politics:

  • Organization and governance
  • Ethics and accountability
  • Security and accord
  • Communication and critique
  • Dialogue and reconciliation
  • Representation and negotiation
  • Law and justice

This accords with the Brundtland Commission emphasis on development that is guided by human rights principles see above.


3.12. Sub-groups Culture

Working with a different emphasis, some researchers and institutions have pointed out that a fourth dimension should be added to the dimensions of sustainable development, since the triple-bottom-line dimensions of economic, environmental and social do not seem to be enough to reflect the complexity of contemporary society. In this context, the Agenda 21 for culture and the United Cities and Local Governments UCLG Executive Bureau lead the preparation of the policy statement "Culture: Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development", passed on 17 November 2010, in the framework of the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders – 3rd World Congress of UCLG, held in Mexico City. This document inaugurates a new perspective and points to the relation between culture and sustainable development through a dual approach: developing a solid cultural policy and advocating a cultural dimension in all public policies. The Circles of Sustainability approach distinguishes the four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability.

Other organizations have also supported the idea of a fourth domain of sustainable development. The Network of Excellence "Sustainable Development in a Diverse World", sponsored by the European Union, integrates multidisciplinary capacities and interprets cultural diversity as a key element of a new strategy for sustainable development. The Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development Theory has been referenced by executive director of IMI Institute at UNESCO Vito Di Bari in his manifesto of art and architectural movement Neo-Futurism, whose name was inspired by the 1987 United Nations report Our Common Future. The Circles of Sustainability approach used by Metropolis defines the fourth cultural domain as practices, discourses, and material expressions, which, over time, express continuities and discontinuities of social meaning.


3.13. Sub-groups Cultural elements in sustainable development frameworks

Recently, human-centered design and cultural collaboration have been popular frameworks for sustainable development in marginalized communities. These frameworks involve open dialogue which entails sharing, debating, and discussing, as well as holistic evaluation of the site of development. Especially when working on sustainable development in marginalized communities, cultural emphasis is a crucial factor in project decisions, since it largely affects aspects of their lives and traditions. Collaborators utilize articulation theory in co-designing. This allows for them to understand each others thought process and their comprehension of the sustainable projects. By using the method of co-design, the beneficiaries holistic needs are being considered. Final decisions and implementations are made with respect to sociocultural and ecological factors.


3.14. Sub-groups Human centered design

The user-oriented framework relies heavily on user participation and user feedback in the planning process. Users are able to provide new perspective and ideas, which can be considered in a new round of improvements and changes. It is said that increased user participation in the design process can garner a more comprehensive understanding of the design issues, due to more contextual and emotional transparency between researcher and participant. A key element of human centered design is applied ethnography, which was a research method adopted from cultural anthropology. This research method requires researchers to be fully immersed in the observation so that implicit details are also recorded.


3.15. Sub-groups Life cycle analysis

Many communities express environmental concerns, so life cycle analysis is often conducted when assessing the sustainability of a product or prototype. The assessment is done in stages with meticulous cycles of planning, design, implementation, and evaluation. The decision to choose materials is heavily weighted on its longevity, renewability, and efficiency. These factors ensure that researchers are conscious of community values that align with positive environmental, social, and economic impacts.


4.1. Themes Progress

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development UNCSD; also known as Rio 2012 was the third international conference on sustainable development, which aimed at reconciling the economic and environmental goals of the global community. An outcome of this conference was the development of the Sustainable Development Goals that aim to promote sustainable progress and eliminate inequalities around the world. However, few nations met the World Wide Fund for Natures definition of sustainable development criteria established in 2006. Although some nations are more developed than others, all nations are constantly developing because each nation struggles with perpetuating disparities, inequalities and unequal access to fundamental rights and freedoms.


4.2. Themes Measurement

In 2007 a report for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated: "While much discussion and effort has gone into sustainability indicators, none of the resulting systems clearly tells us whether our society is sustainable. At best, they can tell us that we are heading in the wrong direction, or that our current activities are not sustainable. More often, they simply draw our attention to the existence of problems, doing little to tell us the origin of those problems and nothing to tell us how to solve them." Nevertheless, a majority of authors assume that a set of well defined and harmonised indicators is the only way to make sustainability tangible. Those indicators are expected to be identified and adjusted through empirical observations trial and error.

The most common critiques are related to issues like data quality, comparability, objective function and the necessary resources. However a more general criticism is coming from the project management community: How can a sustainable development be achieved at global level if we cannot monitor it in any single project?

The Cuban-born researcher and entrepreneur Sonia Bueno suggests an alternative approach that is based upon the integral, long-term cost-benefit relationship as a measure and monitoring tool for the sustainability of every project, activity or enterprise. Furthermore, this concept aims to be a practical guideline towards sustainable development following the principle of conservation and increment of value rather than restricting the consumption of resources.

Reasonable qualifications of sustainability are seen U.S. Green Building Councils USGBC Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED. This design incorporates some ecological, economic, and social elements. The goals presented by LEED design goals are sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy consumption and atmospheric emission reduction, material and resources efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. Although amount of structures for sustainability development is many, these qualification has become a standard for sustainable building.

Recent research efforts created also the SDEWES Index to benchmark the performance of cities across aspects that are related to energy, water and environment systems. The SDEWES Index consists of 7 dimensions, 35 indicators, and close to 20 sub-indicators. It is currently applied to 58 cities.


4.3. Themes Natural capital

The sustainable development debate is based on the assumption that societies need to manage three types of capital, which may be non-substitutable and whose consumption might be irreversible. Leading ecological economist and steady-state theorist Herman Daly, for example, points to the fact that natural capital can not necessarily be substituted by economic capital. While it is possible that we can find ways to replace some natural resources, it is much more unlikely that they will ever be able to replace eco-system services, such as the protection provided by the ozone layer, or the climate stabilizing function of the Amazonian forest. In fact natural capital, social capital and economic capital are often complementarities. A further obstacle to substitutability lies also in the multi-functionality of many natural resources. Forests, for example, not only provide the raw material for paper which can be substituted quite easily, but they also maintain biodiversity, regulate water flow, and absorb CO2.

Another problem of natural and social capital deterioration lies in their partial irreversibility. The loss of biodiversity, for example, is often definitive. The same can be true for cultural diversity. For example, with globalisation advancing quickly the number of indigenous languages is dropping at alarming rates. Moreover, the depletion of natural and social capital may have non-linear consequences. Consumption of natural and social capital may have no observable impact until a certain threshold is reached. A lake can, for example, absorb nutrients for a long time while actually increasing its productivity. However, once a certain level of algae is reached lack of oxygen causes the lakes ecosystem to break down suddenly.


4.4. Themes Business-as-usual

If the degradation of natural and social capital has such important consequence the question arises why action is not taken more systematically to alleviate it. Cohen and Winn point to four types of market failure as possible explanations: First, while the benefits of natural or social capital depletion can usually be privatised, the costs are often externalised i.e. they are borne not by the party responsible but by society in general. Second, natural capital is often undervalued by society since we are not fully aware of the real cost of the depletion of natural capital. Information asymmetry is a third reason - often the link between cause and effect is obscured, making it difficult for actors to make informed choices. Cohen and Winn close with the realization that contrary to economic theory many firms are not perfect optimisers. They postulate that firms often do not optimise resource allocation because they are caught in a "business as usual" mentality.


4.5. Themes Education

Main page: Education for sustainable development

Education must be revisited in light of a renewed vision of sustainable human and social development that is both equitable and viable. This vision of sustainability must take into consideration the social, environmental and economic dimensions of human development and the various ways in which these relate to education: An empowering education is one that builds the human resources we need to be productive, to continue to learn, to solve problems, to be creative, and to live together and with nature in peace and harmony. When nations ensure that such an education is accessible to all throughout their lives, a quiet revolution is set in motion: education becomes the engine of sustainable development and the key to a better world.


5. Insubstantial stretching of the term

It has been argued that since the 1960s, the concept of sustainable development has changed from "conservation management" to "economic development", whereby the original meaning of the concept has been stretched somewhat.

In the 1960s, the international community realised that many African countries needed national plans to safeguard wildlife habitats, and that rural areas had to confront the limits imposed by soil, climate and water availability. This was a strategy of conservation management. In the 1970s, however, the focus shifted to the broader issues of the provisioning of basic human needs, community participation as well as appropriate technology use throughout the developing countries and not just in Africa. This was a strategy of economic development, and the strategy was carried even further by the Brundtland Commissions report on Our Common Future when the issues went from regional to international in scope and application. In effect, the conservationists were crowded out and superseded by the developers.

But shifting the focus of sustainable development from conservation to development has had the imperceptible effect of stretching the original forest management term of sustainable yield from the use of renewable resources only like forestry, to now also accounting for the use of non-renewable resources like minerals. This stretching of the term has been questioned. Thus, environmental economist Kerry Turner has argued that literally, there can be no such thing as overall "sustainable development" in an industrialised world economy that remains heavily dependent on the extraction of earths finite stock of exhaustible mineral resources: "It makes no sense to talk about the sustainable use of a non-renewable resource even with substantial recycling effort and reduction in use rates. Any positive rate of exploitation will eventually lead to exhaustion of the finite stock."

In effect, it has been argued that the industrial revolution as a whole is unsustainable.

One critic has argued that the Brundtland Commission promoted nothing but a business as usual strategy for world development, with the ambiguous and insubstantial concept of "sustainable development" attached as a public relations slogan: The report on Our Common Future was largely the result of a political bargaining process involving many special interest groups, all put together to create a common appeal of political acceptability across borders. After World War II, the notion of "development" had been established in the West to imply the projection of the American model of society onto the rest of the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, this notion was broadened somewhat to also imply human rights, basic human needs and finally, ecological issues. The emphasis of the report was on helping poor nations out of poverty and meeting the basic needs of their growing populations - as usual. This issue demanded more economic growth, also in the rich countries, who would then import more goods from the poor countries to help them out - as usual. When the discussion switched to global ecological limits to growth, the obvious dilemma was left aside by calling for economic growth with improved resource efficiency, or what was termed "a change in the quality of growth". However, most countries in the West had experienced such improved resource efficiency since the early-20th century already and as usual; only, this improvement had been more than offset by continuing industrial expansion, to the effect that world resource consumption was now higher than ever before - and these two historical trends were completely ignored in the report. Taken together, the policy of perpetual economic growth for the entire planet remained virtually intact. Since the publication of the report, the ambiguous and insubstantial slogan of "sustainable development" has marched on worldwide.

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