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You are here: Sustainability – Introduction





Sustainable Development – what is it exactly?


There is hardly another term that has sparked so much activity and at the same time has been so misused as sustainability – or better yet - sustainable development. Sustainable consumption, sustainable corporate management, sustainable products – these are just a few key words that crop up again and again. The German Federal Government has established a sustainability committee and businesses issue sustainability reports. The approach can be traced back to the crucial problem faced by developing countries and industrialised countries of how all people on Earth can be guaranteed a reasonable quality of life without destroying the natural means of subsistence.

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The concept was defined for the first time in 1987 in the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development to the UN and is still generally accepted today. It states that "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Two key terms are important here:

  • The term «needs», especially the basic needs of the poorest in the world, which should have utmost priority, and
  • the idea of restrictions that are exerted by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to satisfy current and future needs.

The conference held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 anchored the concept of sustainable development in Agenda 21 and adopted concrete aims.

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Dead end?


To what extent the term “Sustainable development“ is used or sometimes misused when compared to the orginal concept must be left to the individual to decide for him/herself. In our opinion, the three pillars often applied to assessing sustainable development (economy, ecology and social aspect) could be a dead end street. They may be helpful as an organising principle, however weighing between the pillars poses problems such as determining a connection between economic growth of x% with an emission of y times tons of carbon dioxide which is hardly possible. Furthermore, one would have to decide whether or not the unemployment rate should be classified as economic or social.

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ifeu`s approach


As an ecological research institute, ifeu faces the challenge of implementing the principle of sustainable development in its original definition. Even if compromises must be made in individual projects, we always strive to return our focus to the original guideline. ifeu has made contributions to

  • Local Agenda processes
  • Implementing the guideline for businesses
  • Sector-related implementation for fields such as mobility, energy management or waste management
  • Sustainability reporting of the German Federal government

Particularly in the case of sustainability reporting, ifeu has done extensive work on developing and selecting key indicators for measuring sustainability, together with experts in other specialist fields for the Federal Environment Ministry and the German Inter-Ministerial Commission for Sustainable Development.

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We invite


those of you working on the project of "sustainable development" who want to explore new ways to approach us to seek possible solutions or exchange ideas.

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Main topics of our work


You can currently find more information on the following topics:

Indicators for Sustainable Development

Indicators for Raw Material Usage

Raw Material Equivalents - Eurostat

Sustainable Biomass

Social-Ecological Research

Sustainability and Waste Management

-> List of Projects "Sustainability"

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Jürgen Giegrich

Contact for "Local Agenda Processes" is Markus Duscha

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 Printer friendly  Tell a friend Last updated: 09 Nov 2015