The most well-known definition of sustainability may be found in the 1987 report of the Brundtland Commission: ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. At the 2005 World Summit it was noted that this requires the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands – the ‘three pillars’ of sustainability.
There is abundant evidence that humankind is currently living unsustainably. We are jeopardising the living conditions of future generations, e.g. by excessive use of resources and excessive use of the environment as a sink for greenhouse gas emissions etc. At the same time, social friction is increasing in many areas. It has become clear that these problems cannot be solved by few breakthrough solutions alone (“electric cars!”, “community owned renewable power!”). Instead, economically viable solutions have to be found for many sectors, products and applications.
It should be noted that is difficult to predict the impact of certain measures on the environment, society and the economy in advance. Different aspects of sustainability are often associated with both advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, the term “sustainable” is being used with increasing frequency. Against this backdrop, there is now a strong interest in evaluating the sustainability of products, technologies, etc. both in terms of quality and quantity. A number of methods and models for assessing different aspects of sustainability are now available. However, on the one hand, these often do not cover all relevant aspects of sustainability. On the other hand, they produce a series of standalone results from which it is not possible to derive any specific recommendations.
ifeu has further developed the methods of sustainability assessment in many projects over recent years in order to provide solutions despite these challenges. These include different sets of sustainability indicators and the incorporation of the results into the Integrated Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (ILCSA).