Ecological sustainability
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Philip Sutton
Director, Policy and Strategy
Green Innovations Inc.
Tel & fax: +61 3 9486 4799
Philip.Sutton@green-innovations.asn.au
7th August 2000
Version 2.f/w:i
Paper marked up in HTML format
by Martin Powell
and Philip Sutton.

Contents

  • A definition of ecologically sustainable development
  • To, not just 'towards', ecological sustainability
  • Core requirements for the achievement of ecological sustainability
  • Setting the direction/strategies for action
  • The sustainability-promoting firm
  • The general concept of sustainability
  • A definition of ecologically sustainable development

    Ecologically sustainable development is:
    "Development which achieves ecological sustainability while striving to meet society's other needs."
    Ecological sustainability is:
    "the maintenance of life support systems (1) and the achievement of a 'natural' extinction rate (2)".

    1. climate system, nutrient cycling, etc. - to achieve a healthy geophysiological state.
    2. the rate that applies between major extinction events triggered by things such as large meteor strikes, ice ages and the invasion of humans not culturally adapted to the maintenance of ecological sustainability in the local context.

    Ecological sustainability should be pursued for the benefit of both humans and the other 10-20 million species on the planet.

    To, not just 'towards', ecological sustainability

    Cars can be driven safely or dangerously. And so can societies. A society that is not ecologically sustainable is being 'driven' recklessly and that is not something we want to continue.

    While safety is not a 'destination' for a car, it is certainly a condition that we all want to achieve. That's why it's not good enough to just work 'towards' ecological sustainability for society as if it is not actually something we expect to happen. We have to work out how ecological sustainability can be achieved, in a desirable time frame, and how it can be maintained as our society continues to evolve.

    Core requirements for the achievement of ecological sustainability

    These requirements have been developed from the Natural Step system conditions.

    The two core requirements for ecological sustainability are that:
    To be maintained, the diversity of life and the basis of its productivity: Society must organise itself so that it is easy to maintain the diversity of life and the basis of its productivity, so:
    The diversity of life and the basis of its productivity must not be systematically diminished by:
    • ecosystem manipulation and disruption

    • renewable resource harvesting

    • flows of materials/energy into the ecosphere from the earth's crust or from industry
    Society must have the capability and resilience to solve and preferably prevent its major problems in a timely fashion, so society must be:
    • honest / not corrupt
    • participatory
    • diverse and prepared to experiment
    • inclusive, caring, cohesive, tolerant
    • critical
    • creative and skilled to achieve win-win solutions
    • anticipatory
    • conservative of valuable aspects of present/past
    • committed to the achievement of the social good
    • able to give adequate time to civic activity
    • adequately resourced and equipped with infrastructure, knowledge and skills
    • democratic and equitable (so the above are possible)

    Setting the direction/strategies for action

    Policy Objectives
    (8 system conditions)
    Targets
    (9 stretch goals)
    Actions
    (15 generic strategies)
    Society should be ecologically sustainable. Ecological sustainability must not be undermined by systematic:
    1. increases in concentrations in nature of substances that come from the earth's crust or are produced by society
    2. increases in the manipulation or harvesting of nature
    3. failure to restore the ecological basis for biodiversity and ecological productivity.

    Society must make it easy to achieve system conditions 1-3 by ensuring that:

    1. society has the capability and resilience to solve and preferably prevent its major problems in a timely fashion
    2. material flows from nature into and out of society do not increase systematically
    3. society's aggregate use of resources and land is ultra-frugal
    4. the human population does not increase systematically.
    5. the speed and scale of responses is adequate.
    Society should aim for:
    1. 'zero' extinctions
    2. 'zero' climate damage(1)
    3. 'zero' soil degradation
    4. 'zero' waste
    5. 'zero' pollution
    6. a 90% improvement in resource use efficiency (Factor 10) (2)
    7. 'zero' net greenhouse gas emissions.
    8. 'zero' encroachment on nature.
    9. 75% of land for nature.
    Society should take action to:
    1. contain human activity (for nature) - don't encroach, boost land efficiency
    2. tread lightly (for nature)
    3. restore habitat (for nature)
    4. dematerialise
    5. create a closed-cycle economy
    6. use renewable resources
    7. design for no toxicity (including eco-toxicity)
    8. protect people from environmental threats
    9. strive for sustainable population
    10. green up business
    11. green up lifestyles
    12. green up culture
    13. boost social and economic capability
    14. encourage 'ecological take-off' in the economy/society
    15. achieve results at a desirable speed and scale.
    1. Given the huge injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the last half century and the enormous lead times for correction, this stretch goal becomes a long-term recovery target rather than a preventive goal.
    2. See the International Factor 10 Club (1997).

    The sustainability-promoting firm

    Jump to a web page on The 5 key actions of the sustainability-promoting firm

    The general concept of sustainability

    Jump to a web page where the general concept of sustainability is examined.


    Author:  Philip Sutton
    First posted:  August 1998
    Content modified:  7 August 2000
    Feedback & Enquiries:  Philip.Sutton@green-innovations.asn.au


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