When did sustainability become an issue?

sustainability

Iris Pufé

To person

Dr. phil., MBA, born 1977; Lecturer, consultant and author on the subject of sustainability; Member of the Advisory Board of the German Environmental Foundation; Gentzstrasse 1, 80796 Munich. [email protected]

Our economy is currently changing fundamentally. Greed has never been good, and avarice is no longer cool either. Especially against the background of the financial, euro and global economic crisis, the starting position for a profound change in terms of its social acceptance seems better than ever. The change is already in full swing and visible in many areas: Whether electric mobility, energetic building renovation, vegetarian or vegan nutrition, fair trade products, decent working conditions, cooperation with aid organizations, women's quota or the energy transition - everything should be "sustainable".

The desire for more sustainability not only entails changes, but also adds an additional dose of complexity to decisions - strategic and operational, economic and political. That, in turn, is due to the nature of complex systems such as our current economy and society. Openness, uncertainties, discontinuities, delays, feedback, non-linear and dynamic interactions are the drivers. They make decisive action difficult even for capable helmsmen and women. In addition, dealing with the concept of sustainable development is characterized by a fundamental dilemma: while the topic, whether it is positively charged with values ​​such as environmental protection, health care or global justice, meets with acceptance, interests collide as soon as there are conclusions for one's own Action is possible.

A uniform understanding of sustainability, its nature and its benefits is still missing today. Without a fundamental, common understanding of the sustainability concept, however, change is impossible to cope with. In this respect, sustainability is like driving a car: Nobody needs to know how a gasoline engine works in order to safely participate in road traffic, but everyone should at least be able to assume that everyone involved has mastered the most important rules. This post is about these rules, in the form of definitions, models, principles, strategies.

Important definitions

The concept of sustainability goes back to Freiberg's chief miner Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714) and forestry. [1] According to Carlowitz, a forest should only be cut down as much as it could naturally regenerate within a certain period of time. There was talk of a "smart way of forest management" and "constant and sustainable use of the forest". [2] The principle of sustainability should therefore ensure that a regenerative, natural system is permanently preserved in its essential properties. This laid the foundation for understanding sustainability as a resource-economic principle.

The definition, which is still the most widespread and recognized today and can therefore be regarded as the classic definition of sustainability, has its origins in the so-called Brundtland Report of 1987, which for the first time legally stipulated: "Sustainable development is development that satisfies the needs of the present without risking that future generations will not be able to meet their needs. "[3] In terms of content, the aspect of global spatial and temporal justice is decisive in this definition. A more equitable distribution of growth and prosperity between North and South should be sought, because the gap between the prosperity bellies of the rich countries in the north and the so-called starvation bellies of the poor in the south became more and more evident. In general, it is the north-south divide or the divide between the polluter and affected countries that is most often ignored in the sustainability debate. It is often described using the equation 80:20: Accordingly, 20 percent of the world's population cause global environmental damage, while the 80 percent have to bear the consequences through no fault of their own. [4]

A definition that is now more common in the economic context, which is very handy and easy to apply, is: Sustainability means not generating profits that then flow into environmental and social projects, but making profits in an environmentally and socially compatible manner. So far, it has not yet been fixed in writing in a document, but it deserves special attention due to its practicality.

Three central models

Two developments in particular are forcing us to change: global warming and global population growth. Our demand for energy is still increasing, and with it the global CO2 emissions, which intensify the greenhouse effect. [5] In emerging economies like China and India, the hunger for energy increased by 146 and 91 percent between 1990 and 2008, respectively. [6] Even industrialized countries fail to use less energy. Population growth increases the hunger for energy and this in turn increases climate change.

The facts on this are provided by climate researchers, geologists and oceanologists, among others. They provide data and knowledge that economists and politicians cannot avoid. Science was only heard when the cost of environmental damage was quantified. The 650-page study "Review on the Economics of Climate Change" from 2006 attracted worldwide attention. Its author, former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern, stated in it: "Climate change is the greatest and most far-reaching market failure in world history." 7] On behalf of the British government, he calculated the economic consequences of global warming to be just under 5.5 trillion euros per year by 2100. Around one percent of global gross domestic product (around 270 billion euros) is already spent annually to counteract climate change.

In the course of the conceptual debate on the topic of sustainability, various schemes have emerged that are intended to represent the principle of sustainability. The most significant are: the three-pillar model, the intersection or triad model and the sustainability triangle (see figure in the PDF version).

In the three-pillar model, the "sustainability" umbrella is supported by the pillars of ecology, economy and social issues, with all three dimensions standing side by side with equal rights. The problem with this representation, however, is that the middle column only needs to be strong enough to support the roof. Science therefore endeavored to work out the indissoluble connection between the sustainability dimensions using the triad model - also in the sustainability triangle.

No matter how the dividing line is drawn between the three central types of capital economy, ecology, and social issues - in order to do justice to the spirit, principle and core of sustainability, it is always important to bring all three together, to connect - or as it is often said, to integrate". This is also what the previous sustainability models have in common. They bring together what was never separate in nature, but in the economy in the course of its profit-oriented professionalization and supply chain expansion. [8]