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Speaking about the environment today apparently means speaking about Sustainability. Theoretically, no one can take a stand against Sustainability because there is no definition of it. Neither is there a history of Sustainability. The S-word seems to point to a universal idea, valid anywhere, at any time.
Although the notion of Sustainability appeared for the first time in Germany in the 18th century (as Nachhaltigkeit), in fact Sustainability (and the creative oxymoron ‘Sustainable Development’) is a young concept. Developed in the early seventies, it was formalized and officially adopted by the international community in 1987 in the UN report ‘Our Common Future’.
Looking back, we see that Western society has always been obsessed by its relationship with the environment, with what is meant to be outside ourselves, or, as some call it, nature.
Many ideas preceded the notion of Sustainability and even today there are various trends and original ideas following old ideological traditions. Some of these directly oppose Sustainability.
This timeline is a subjective attempt to historically map the different ideas around the problem of the relationship between humans and their environment.”
Some earlier examples of drafting a sustainability history:
– Ulrich Grober, ‘Deep roots – A conceptual history of ‘sustainable development’ (Nachhaltigkeit)’ [PDF], Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung Berlin (WZB) 2007.
– M. Held, ‘Geschichte der Nachhaltigkeit’ [PDF], Natur und Kultur no. 1, vol. 1 (2000), pp. 17-31.
– Bernd Marquardt, ‘Historia de la sostenibilidad. Un concepto medioambiental en la historia de Europa central (1000-2006)’ [PDF], Historia Crítica no. 32, 2006 (Bogotá), pp. 172-197.
– Desta Mebratu, ‘Sustainability and sustainable development Historical and conceptual review’ [PDF], Environmental Impact Assessment Review no. 6, vol. 18 (November 1998), pp. 493-520
– Jacobus A. Du Pisani, ‘Sustainable development – historical roots of the concept’ [link], Environmental Sciences, no. 2, vol. 3 (2006), pp. 83-96.
– Henk van Zon, Duurzame ontwikkeling in historisch perspectief. Enkele verkenningen [PDF], Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2002.