# Sustainability

The Earth Day flag includes a NASA photo.

Sustainability is a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely.

Sustainability focuses on providing the best outcomes for both the human and natural environments now, and into the indefinite future. In recent years an academic and public discourse has led to the use of the word sustainability in reference to how long human ecological systems can be expected to be usefully productive. The implied preference would be for systems to be productive indefinitely, or be 'sustainable." For instance, "sustainable agriculture" would require agricultural systems expected to last indefinitely, "sustainable development" would be development of economic systems that last indefinitely, and so on. A side discourse relates the term sustainability to longevity of natural ecosystems and reserves, but the greatest emphasis has been on human systems and anthropogenic problems, such as anthropogenic climate change, or the obviously anthropogenic depletion of fossil fuel reserves. It is perhaps meaningful, and pragmatic, to speak of practices being "more sustainable" or "less sustainable." Thus energy saving compact florescent light bulbs can be considered more sustainable than incandescent ones, and so forth.

Definitions of sustainability abound, and the popularity of the term has led to competing definitions, and much confusion. One of the most oft-cited definitions of sustainability is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, led by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Commission defined sustainable development as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."[1] Sustainability relates to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment.[2] Sustainability is one of the four Core Concepts behind the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures.

Sustainability can be defined as: "Humanity’s investment in a system of living, projected to be viable on an ongoing basis that provides quality of life for all individuals of sentient species and conserves natural ecosystems.”

## Definitions, metrics and indices

Main article: Sustainability metric and indices

Sustainability can be defined both qualitatively in words, as an ethical/ecological proposition such as the Bruntland definition above, and quantitatively in terms of system life expectancy and the trajectory of certain factors or terms in the system. Quantitative analysis in sustainability thinking typically uses system dynamics modeling as systems are often non-linear and so-called feedback loops are key factors. So, for instance, important human ecological sub-systems that could be analyzed or modeled in this way might include the nitrogen cycle in sustainable agriculture, or the depletion of oil reserves.

In order to distinguish quantitatively and qualitatively which human economic activities are destructive and which are benign or beneficial, various definitions/models of sustainability have been developed. The following list is not exhaustive but contains the major points of view:

### International Institute for Sustainable Development Sample Policy Framework

In 1996 the International Institute for Sustainable Development developed a Sample Policy Framework which proposed that a sustainability index "would give decision-makers tools to rate policies and programs against each other" (1996, p.9). Ravi Jain (2005) [3] argued that, "The ability to analyze different alternatives or to assess progress towards sustainability will then depend on establishing measurable entities or metrics used for sustainability."

### The Natural Step/System Conditions of Sustainability

Following the Brundtland Commission's report, one of the first initiatives to bring scientific principles to the assessment of sustainability was by Swedish cancer scientist Karl-Henrik Robèrt. Robèrt coordinated a consensus process to define and operationalize sustainability. At the core of the process lies a consensus on what Robèrt came to call the natural step framework. The framework is based on a definition of sustainability, described as the system conditions of sustainability (as derived from System theory). In the natural step framework, a sustainable society is one which does not systematically increase concentrations of substances extracted from the earth's crust, or substances produced by society; that does not degrade the environment and in which people have the capacity to meet their needs worldwide. [4]

### Life Cycle Assessment and Ecological Footprint Analysis

Life Cycle Assessment is a "composite measure of sustainability." It analyses the environmental performance of products and services through all phases of their life cycle: extracting and processing raw materials; manufacturing, transportation and distribution; use, re-use, maintenance; recycling, and final disposal.[5]

Ecological footprint analysis is an estimate of the amount of land area a human population, given prevailing technology, would need if the current resource consumption and pollution by the population is matched by the sustainable (renewable) resource production and waste assimilation by such a land area. The algorithms of the ecological footprint model have, on the one hand, been used in combination with the emergy methodology (S. Zhao, Z. Li and W. Li 2005), and a sustainability index has been derived from the latter. They have also been combined with an index of quality of life (Marks et al, 2006), and the outcome christened the "(Un)Happy Planet Index" (HPI)shows indices for 178 nations. One of the striking conclusions to emerge from ecological footprint analyses is that it would be necessary to have 4 or 5 back up planets engage in nothing but agriculture for all those alive today to live a Western lifestyle.

### Global Reporting Initiative

In 1997 the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was started as a multi-stakeholder process and independent institution whose mission has been "to develop and disseminate globally applicable Sustainability Reporting Guidelines". The GRI uses ecological footprint analysis and became independent in 2002. It is an official collaborating centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and during the tenure of Kofi Annan, it cooperated with the UN Secretary-General’s Global Compact.

### Energy, Emergy and Sustainability Index (SI)

In 1997, systems ecologists M.T.Brown and S.Ulgiati published their formulation of a quantitative sustainability index (SI) as a ratio of the emergy (spelled with an "m", i.e. "embodied energy", not simply "energy") yield ratio (EYR) to the environmental loading ratio (ELR). Brown and Ulgiati also called the sustainability index the "Emergy Sustainability Index" (ESI), "an index that accounts for yield, renewability, and environmental load. It is the incremental emergy yield compared to the environmental load". [6]

• $\textrm{Sustainability\ Index} = \frac{\textrm{Emergy\ Yield\ Ratio}}{\textrm{Environmental\ Loading\ Ratio}} = \frac{\textit{EYR}}{\textit{ELR}}$
• NOTE: The numerator is called "emergy" and is spelled with an "m". It is an abbreviation of the term, "embodied energy". The numerator is NOT "energy yield ratio", which is a different concept. [7]

### Environmental Sustainability Index

In 2004, a joint initiative of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) of Columbia University, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Directorate-General Joint Research Centre (European Commission) also attempted to construct an Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI)[8]. This was formally released in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on 28 January 2005. The report on this index made a comparison of the WEF ESI to other sustainability indicators such as the Ecological footprint Index. However there was no mention of the emergy sustainability index.

Nevertheless writers like Leone (2005) and Yi et al. have also recently suggested that the emergy sustainability index has significant utility. In particular, Leone notes that while the GRI measures behavior, it fails to calculate supply constraints which the emergy methodology aims to calculate.

### Sustainability Dashboard

The International Institute for Sustainable Development has produced a "Dashboard of Sustainability", "a free, non-commercial software package that illustrates the complex relationships among economic, social and environmental issues". This is based on Sustainable Development Indicators Prepared for the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development (UN-DSD)DECEMBER 2005.

1 University of Sydney, Faculty of Rural Management 2 NSW Agriculture, Orange Agricultural Institute 1,2 Orange NSW 2800 Australia

## Conceptual issues

### Values, purpose and the focus on outcomes

Values vary greatly in detail within and between cultures, as well as between academic disciplines (e.g., between economists and ecologists). [9] The introduction of social values to sustainability goals implies a much more complex and contentious debate, and those focused on ecological impacts tend to strongly resist non-ecological interpretations.

Some see at the heart of the concept of sustainability a fundamental, immutable value set that is best stated as 'parallel care and respect for the ecosystem and for the people within'. From this value set emerges the goal of sustainability: to achieve human and ecosystem well-being together. Seen in this way, the concept of sustainability is much more than environmental protection in another guise. It is a positive concept that has as much to do with achieving well-being for people and ecosystems as it has to do with reducing ecological stress or environmental impacts.

At its least, sustainability implies paying attention to comprehensive outcomes of events and actions insofar as they can be anticipated at present. This is known as full cost accounting, or Environmental accounting. This kind of accounting assumes that all aspects of a system can be measured and audited (Environmental audits).

Environmental accounting can be a limited biological interpretation as in ecological footprint analysis, or may include social factors as in the ICLEITriple Bottom Line standards for urban and community accounts.

At most, sustainability is intended as a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in a very long term - typically at least seven generations.

None of these extended definitions, however, ever deny or downplay the importance of the ecological interpretation of sustainability as defined by the science of ecology itself. All advocates of sustainability accept that ecological, not social, factors, are the most measurable and universal indicators of sustainability.

Sustainability outcomes can be investigated at every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.

### Common principles

Some people now consider the term "sustainable development" as too closely linked with continued material development, and prefer to use terms like "sustainability", "sustainable prosperity" and "sustainable genuine progress" as the umbrella terms. Despite differences, a number of common principles are embedded in most charters or action programmes to achieve sustainable development, sustainability or sustainable prosperity. These include (Hargroves & Smith 2005, see bibliography):

### Weak versus Strong Sustainability

However, a distinction between different 'degrees' of sustainability should be made. The debate currently focuses on the sustainability between economy and the environment which can in other words be considered as between 'natural capital' and 'manufactured/man-made capital'. This is also captured in the 'weak' versus 'strong' sustainability discussions.

Weak Sustainability is advocated by the Hartwick's Rule, which states that so long as TOTAL capital stays constant, sustainable development can be achieved. As long as the diminishing natural capital stocks are being substituted by gains in the man-made stock, total capital will stay constant and the current level of consumption can continue. The proponents believe that economic growth is beneficial as increased levels of income lead to increased levels of environmental protectionism. This is also known as the 'substitutability paradigm'.

Conversely, Strong Sustainability, as supported by Herman Daly, believe that natural capital and man-made capital are only complementary at best. In order for Sustainable Development to be achieved, natural capital has to be kept constant independently from man-made capital. This is known as the 'non-substitutability paradigm'.

### Population growth and Consumption

One of the critical issues in sustainability is that of human overpopulation combined with current lifestyle patterns. A number of studies have suggested that the current population of the Earth, already over six billion, is too many people to support sustainably. at current material consumption levels, this challenge for sustainability is distributed unevenly. According to calculations of the ecological footprint, the ecological pressure of a US resident is 12 times that of a resident of India and 24 times that of a Somali resident.[10]

With the world population continuing to grow, there is increasing pressure on arable land, water, energy, and biological resources to provide enough food while while supporting viable ecosystems. World Bank and United Nations studies, show that there are over 1 billion people who are malnourished. This is due to a combination of lack of food, low incomes, and poor food distribution. The world population is projected to grow from over 6 billion to as high as 10.6 billion within the next 50 years (UN Population Division, 2006). With expanding population, the food problem will worsen.[11]

Critics of efforts to reduce population rather than consumption fear that efforts to reduce population growth may lead to human rights violations such as involuntary sterilization and the abandoning of infants to die. Some human-rights watchers report that this is already taking place in China, as a result of its one child per family policy.

Albeit, it appears inevitable[citation needed] that human population numbers will be constrained and brought into some form of equilibrium by the Malthusian limit and in accordance with the Lotka-Volterra equation. In his book Collapse, author Jared Diamond presents several societies where population growth mixed with unsustainable consumption levels have led to collapses in population numbers.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, founded in 1995, has formulated the business case for sustainable development and argues that "sustainable development is good for business and business is good for sustainable development". This view is also maintained by proponents of the concept of industrial ecology. The theory of industrial ecology declares that industry should be viewed as a series of interlocking man-made ecosystems interfacing with the natural global ecosystem.

According to some economists, it is possible for the concepts of sustainable development and competitiveness to merge if enacted wisely, so that there is not an inevitable trade-off[12]. This merger is being motivated by the following six facts (Hargroves & Smith 2005):

1. Throughout the economy there are widespread untapped potential resource productivity improvements to be made to be coupled with effective design.
2. There has been a significant shift in understanding over the last three decades of what creates lasting competitiveness of a firm.
3. There is now a critical mass of enabling technologies in eco-innovations that make integrated approaches to sustainable development economically viable.
4. Since many of the costs of what economists call ‘environmental externalities’ are passed on to governments, in the long-term sustainable development strategies can provide multiple benefits to the tax payer.
5. There is a growing understanding of the multiple benefits of valuing social and natural capital, for both moral and economic reasons, and including them in measures of national well-being.
6. There is mounting evidence to show that a transition to a sustainable economy, if done wisely, may not harm economic growth significantly, in fact it could even help it. Recent research by ex-Wuppertal Institute member Joachim Spangenberg, working with neo-classical economists, shows that the transition, if focused on improving resource productivity, will lead to higher economic growth than business as usual, while at the same time reducing pressures on the environment and enhancing employment.

It is an unresolved question as to whether all of the attempts at definitions have anything to do with the compound constructs of sustainability investment advanced by network economics and systemic entrepreneurs.

However, as late as fall 2006 the Stern Report estimated that 1% of GDP will now need to be invested to save 20% of GDP, because of failures to date by most global market sectors to integrate sustainability in the metrics they have governed with.

## Sustainable Livelihoods Approach

Another application of sustainability has been in the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach, developed on conceptual work by Amartya Sen, and the UK's Institute for Development Studies (IDS). This was championed by the UK's Department for International Development(DFID), UNDP, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as NGOs such as CARE, OXFAM and Khanya. Key concepts include the Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) Framework, a holistic way of understanding livelihoods, the SL principles, as well as six governance issues developed by Khanya.

## Types of sustainability

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has identified considerations for technical cooperation that affect three types of sustainability:

• Institutional sustainability. Can a strengthened institutional structure continue to deliver the results of technical cooperation to end users? The results may not be sustainable if, for example, the planning authority that depends on the technical cooperation loses access to top management, or is not provided with adequate resources after the technical cooperation ends. Institutional sustainability can also be linked to the concept of social sustainability, which asks how the interventions can be sustained by social structures and institutions;
• Economic and financial sustainability. Can the results of technical cooperation continue to yield an economic benefit after the technical cooperation is withdrawn? For example, the benefits from the introduction of new crops may not be sustained if the constraints to marketing the crops are not resolved. Similarly, economic, as distinct from financial, sustainability may be at risk if the end users continue to depend on heavily subsidized activities and inputs.
• Ecological sustainability. Are the benefits to be generated by the technical cooperation likely to lead to a deterioration in the physical environment, thus indirectly contributing to a fall in production, or well-being of the groups targeted and their society?

Some ecologists have emphasised a fourth type of sustainability.

• Energetic sustainability. This type of sustainability is often concerned with the production of energy and mineral resources. Some researchers have pointed to trends which document the limits of production. See Hubbert peak for example.

The United Nations has declared a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development starting in January of 2005. A non-partisan multi-sector response to the decade has formed within the U.S. via the U.S. Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.[13] Active sectors teams have formed for youth, higher education, business, religion, the arts, and more. Organizations and individuals can join in sharing resources and success stories, and creating a sustainable future.

### Development sustainability

Sustainability is relevant to development projects. A definition of development sustainability is "the continuation of benefits after major assistance from the donor has been completed" (Australian Agency for International Development 2000). Ensuring that development projects are sustainable can reduce the likelihood of them collapsing after they have just finished; it also reduces the financial cost of development projects and the subsequent social problems, such as dependence of the stakeholders on external donors and their resources. All development assistance, apart from temporary emergency and humanitarian relief efforts, should be designed and implemented with the aim of achieving sustainable benefits. There are ten key factors that influence development sustainability.[citation needed]

1. Participation and ownership. Get the stakeholders (men and women) to genuinely participate in design and implementation. Build on their initiatives and demands. Get them to monitor the project and periodically evaluate it for results.
2. Capacity building and training. Training stakeholders to take over should begin from the start of any project and continue throughout. The right approach should both motivate and transfer skills to people.
3. Government policies. Development projects should be aligned with local government policies.
4. Financial. In some countries and sectors, financial sustainability is difficult in the medium term. Training in local fundraising is a possibility, as is identifying links with the private sector, charging for use, and encouraging policy reforms.
5. Management and organization. Activities that integrate with or add to local structures may have better prospects for sustainability than those which establish new or parallel structures.
6. Social, gender and culture. The introduction of new ideas, technologies and skills requires an understanding of local decision-making systems, gender divisions and cultural preferences.
7. Technology. All outside equipment must be selected with careful consideration given to the local finance available for maintenance and replacement. Cultural acceptability and the local capacity to maintain equipment and buy spare parts are vital.
8. Environment. Poor rural communities that depend on natural resources should be involved in identifying and managing environmental risks. Urban communities should identify and manage waste disposal and pollution risks.
9. External political and economic factors. In a weak economy, projects should not be too complicated, ambitious or expensive.
10. Realistic duration. A short project may be inadequate for solving entrenched problems in a sustainable way, particularly when behavioural and institutional changes are intended. A long project, may on the other hand, promote dependence.

The definition of sustainability as "the continuation of benefits after major assistance from the donor has been completed" (Australian Agency for International Development 2000) is echoed by other definitions (World Bank, USAID). The concept has however evolved as it has become of interest to non grant-making institutions. Sustainability in development refers to processes and relative increases in local capacity and performance while foreign assistance decreases or shifts (not necessarily disappears). For a presentation of this evolution in the health sector of development, see publications on: http://www.childsurvival.com/documents/CSTS/sustainability.cfm

## Barriers to a sustainability culture

Acknowledging the barriers to sustainability, numerous publications from the Tellus Institute examine the factors necessary to achieve an environmentally sustainable future, something Tellus terms a ‘Great Transition’ (see Raskin et al, 2002; Rajan, 2006; Kreigman, 2006). Using scenario analysis, Tellus shows that a new sustainability paradigm is possible if progressive elements of civil society, government, business, and an engaged citizenry work together to create an alternative vision of globalization centered on the quality of life, human solidarity, environmental resilience, and shared information.

### The phenomenon of change resistance

The above concepts focus primarily on the proper practices required to live sustainably. However, there is also the need to consider why there is such strong resistance to adopting sustainable practices.

Unruh (2000, 2002) has argued that numerous barriers to sustainability arise because today's technological systems and governing institutions were designed and built for permanence and reliability, not change. In the case of fossil fuel-based systems this is termed "carbon lock-in" and inhibits many change efforts.

Thwink.org argues that if enough members of the environmental movement adopted a problem solving process that fit the problem, the movement would make the astonishing discovery that the crux of the problem is not what it thought it was. It is not the proper practices or technical side of the problem after all. Any number of these practices would be adequate. Instead the real issue is why is it so difficult to persuade social agents (such as people, corporations, and nations) to adopt the proper practices needed to live sustainably? Thus the heart of the matter is the change resistance or social side of the problem.

### Barriers to ecological sustainability

Despite the now overwhelming evidence that the human species is set on a population adjustment course of immense proportions, and despite long-standing and widespread public awareness of the seriousness of the consequence (e.g., Nelson, 1986; Yankelovitch, et al., 1983; Diamond, Jared (2005) ), it seems impossible to alter the course of our destiny.

This is generally attributed to “change resistance” (see, e.g., Thwink.org), viewed as involving change in individual values, whether at personal, corporate, or collective levels (see e.g., Stafford Beer). Unfortunately, it has been frequently demonstrated, e.g., in the studies cited, that people’s values are, in general, in the right place. The problem is to enact them. This has led to the preparation of numerous “wish lists”—such as that compiled by Shah, H., & Marks, N. (2004)—drawing together many recommendations for government action.

Government and individual failure to act on the available information is widely attributed to personal greed (deemed to be inherent in human nature) especially on the part of international capitalists. But even Karl Marx did not suggest this, instead highlighting sociological processes which have been in operation for thousands of years. If fault is to be found with Marx's work it can be argued that it lies elsewhere. Because he believed that the collapse of capitalism was imminent, he never discussed how to run society in an innovative way in the long term public interest.

Two things seem to follow from this brief discussion.

1. It is vital to follow up the study of the sociocybernetic, or systems (see also systems theory), processes which, it seems, primarily control what happens in society.
2. We should use the social-science-based insights already available to evolve forms of Public management that will act on information in an innovative way in the long term public interest.

## Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle states that if there is a risk that an action could cause harm, and there is a lack of scientific consensus on the matter, the burden of proof is on those who would support taking the action.

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