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1.2 Sustainable Development and Environmental Sustainability

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“sustainable” has resulted in an enormously important implication: it has pinpointed the impossibility of continuing with the currently indisputable idea of development, unique development without any adjectives. And not only are other forms of development possible, but there is a dire need for them. Subsequent to this document, various other significant international initiatives were started, the more important ones being the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place 10 years later in Johannesburg. Today, the concept of sustainable development has its stable place not only in the official language and documents of all international organisations, but also among all social actors, economic as well as institutional ones. But great success on a communicative level has not brought any significant changes. Moreover, it seems that the very expression sustainable development has lost its original force. This has happened due to the overuse of the term in the ambience of events and situations that have little or nothing to do with its actual meaning. As a result, the risk of turning it into a semantically empty expression grows, with everybody agreeing, but not really understanding its deeper implications. On the other hand, even if it is already semantically incorrect (i. e. due to overuse and abuse its primary sense has lost its significance), the expression “sustainable development” remains indispensable. And we think that what should be done is a kind of “semantic de-polluting”, trying to use this expression only in the correct way and place, and at the same time criticising hard misleading instances. All this requires in-depth theoretical examination of significance of the words used in the original definition, in this case, the exact meanings of “sustainable”, “development” and “need”1. Otherwise, it requires moving from rather general ethical indications (without compromising the ability of future generations), to a concrete and precise action plan. Hence, it is clear, especially considering the enormity of the topic, that the sheer number of fields covered and defined by this action plan will be huge; practically every aspect of contemporary society has to take advice. It is an enormous amount of work that can be brought to completion only as a complex and across-the-board process of social innovation, in which all participants have to play their part. Our course of tackling these questions will start with a few notes on the concept of environmental sustainability before showing the extent of such a change that the sustainable point of view requires to be put into action. In the next couple of chapters, we will discuss the significance of this change, what concerns the aspects of well-being and the roles that the social participants in the production–consumption system are going to or could end up with; all in order to take some concrete steps towards sustainability. 1

Theoretical discussion on the topic of sustainable development and its implications has created a vast bibliography. Just to mention some of the books that have been particularly relevant for this very chapter: Daly and Cobb (1989); Shiva (1989, 1983); Hawken (1993); Hawken et al. (1999); Sachs (1999, 2002); Marten (2001); Solow (2002); Brown (2003); Sen (2004).

Design for Environmental Sustainability  

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