living sustainably

4. What does sustainability mean?

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Sustainability is on everyone's lips, but often only vaguely understood. 

Sustainability is a development that satisfies the needs of the present without risking that future generations will not be able to meet their own needs.
Brundtland Report
- Our Common Future. World Commission on the Environment and Development, 1987

Sustainability [ecology] is a principle according to which no more can be consumed, than can respectively be regrown, regenerated, and provided again in the future. 
Translated from: Duden German Dictionary

Sustainability means - concisely formulated - good life for about ten billion people within the ecological boundaries on our planet. 

The concept of sustainable development is a systematic extension of human rights by opening up equal development opportunities for all people on this planet and for future generations.
Translated from: Uwe Schneidewind. Die Grosse Transformation - Eine Einführung in die Kunst gesellschaftlichen Wandels. 2018

As simple as these definitions are, it is difficult to achieve a unified, shared understanding of sustainability.

Without such a common understanding of sustainability, however, the transformation to a sustainable society can hardly be accomplished.

The transformation towards a more sustainable development will inevitably be linked to a structural change that knows winners and at least temporarily also losers.

In this respect, in addition to the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental policies, the associated distribution effects must also be taken into account. Issues of justice are thus to be taken seriously as the third central measure of environmental policies in order to ensure their legitimacy and approval.

Translated from: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Nr. 310/August 2018: Verantwortliche Umweltpolitik - ökologisch wirksam und sozial gerecht. 

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Think about what's coming in advance. 

The circular economy is one of the expedient concepts of sustainable economic activity. 

In the circular economy, resource use, waste production, emissions and energy waste are minimised by slowing down, reducing and closing energy and material cycles.

Products should be developed from the outset in such a way that, after use, the raw materials can be extracted and reused without any loss of quality, or fed back into the biological cycle without damaging human health or the environment.

This way of doing business is of paramount importance for our future, given the current overuse and waste of material and energy resources worldwide. 

Circular Economy - Improving the Management of Natural Resources
Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences

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Percieve critical developments at an early stage.

The precautionary principle is probably one of the most effective ways of sustainably protecting our environment.

Critical developments are corrected early on, i.e. initial measures are taken at an early stage against potential critical developments, even if science still has no definite proof of what, how exactly and when something will happen. 

The precautionary principle is becoming more and more important, since today, as far as the environment is concerned, we are likely to cause far more new problems than we are to solve existing problems.

European Parliamentary Research Service


Among other things, for us people in the rich countries, sustainable living means,

1. Providing for the future humans on our earth.

2. Showing solidarity with other people in the world.

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Time is short, but the importance of provisions and solidarity for the future of us humans is underestimated.

Are we worried today? - Barely.
When it comes to action, environmental and climate protection has not yet been taken on board by the vast majority of us. 

Are we in solidarity today? - Barely.
Only 15 - 20 % of the world's population, mainly in the rich countries, account for around 80 % of total global resource consumption.

The illustration shows the magnitude, exact data are lacking.

Consumption of energy is also very unevenly distributed worldwide.

Source: 2'000-Watt-Gesellschaft 
[An energy consumption of 2,000 watt coninous output corresponds to 17,500 kWh per capita and per year].

The richest 10 percent of the world account for half of all global greenhouse gas emissions. 
Report from Oxfam Germany 2015

Food waste per capita in Europe and North America is on average 10 times higher than, for example, in Asia.

Hence, the industrialized countries have to answer for the majority of the global environmental impacts in recent decades. 

For example, Switzerland and its ecological footprint.

If all the people in the world lived like we do in Switzerland, then we would need three planets as big as our Earth. 
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Earth-Overshoot-Day 2019 lands on July 29

This day marks the date when we - all of humanity - have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. 

2000 it was the 23rd of September 
1985 it was the 4th of November
1970 it was the 29th of December

Source: Earth Overshoot Day and  Globald Footprint Network

The 8-tons Society

The average resource consumption per capita and year today, for example in Germany, is between 33 and 40 tonnes. For a truly sustainable lifestyle, however, the consumption of resources would have to be reduced to 8 tonnes. 

Calculate my own resource consumption:

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The facts are clear,

  • today we humans are clearly living at the expense of future generations,
  • our descendants probably will have to pay a big price for our overuse and pollution of planet Earth, and
  • at most they will have to live with severe restrictions.

Our way of life in the rich countries today is not sustainable and therefore no longer an option for the future people.

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Global sustainability
The year 2015 - a milestone for global sustainability?

  • Pontifical Enzyklika Laudato Sì
    June 2015
    Pope Francis proclaims his vision of the world. At the centre is the vulnerability of creation.
  • UN Agenda 2030
    September 2015
    169 countries sign 17 Sustainable Development Goals to guide global policy towards sustainable development.
  • The Paris Climate Agreement
    December 2015
    196 member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agree to limit man-made global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Transformation of Our World - The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The agenda came into force on 1 January 2016.

17 Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved globally and by all UN Member States by 2030. 

This means that all states are equally challenged to solve the urgent challenges of the world together.

People should have relevant information and awareness of sustainable development by 2030 - all across the world.

17 Goals

Sustainable development is more than environmental and climate protection. It is the design principle of our world. 

Sustainable development is the result of an approach that understands
social affairs
as equal and networked. 

Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2019

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