Introduction to the Concept of Sustainability

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A Introduction to the Concept of Sustainability


Sustainability did not play any role in development projects until the late 1980s. But a steady growing population, especially in the developing world, environmental worries like deforestation, desertification, air pollution, toxic waste and ongoing scarceness of clean water and the absence of ground-braking success in poverty reduction putted it on the Agenda of the United Nations.

In 1983 the UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar invited Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to chair a World Commission on Environment and Development. The commission´s report was finally presented in 1987 and established the concept of sustainable development.

Brundtland declared that only sustainable development could lead to the fulfillment of human needs with the protection of air, soil, water and all forms of life - from which, ultimately, planetary stability was inseparable. Therefor, for the first time poverty reduction was linked with environmentalism and vice versa.

The findings of this report led to the first Earth Summit - the UN Conference on Environment and Development - at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and to the Agenda 21.

Today, more then 20 years after the release of the Brundtland Report, sustainable development is one of the key issues on the political agenda. But as the report indicates, arriving at a commonly accepted definition of sustainable development remains a challenge for all the actors in the development process.

Prominent Definitions:

Oxford Dictionary:


(1) involving the use of natural products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment;

(2) that can continue or be continued for a long time

GTZ: (Declared in 2005 sustainable development to be the corporate guiding principle)

For the work of GTZ, sustainable development means:

  1. supporting economic growth for more prosperity in partner countries

  1. ensuring

equal opportunities for rich and poor, North and South, women and men

  1. utilizing

natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations

Reinhard Stockmann: (Scholar)

A project in development cooperation is sustainable

  1. if

there were built up adequate structures which enable the counterpart or beneficiary to successfully react on changing environmental conditions (problem solving capacity)

  1. if

there are planned and unplanned multiplier effects (Multiplikatorwirkungen), in a way that benefits spread to a wider population

  1. if the project becomes a role model for others

Franz Nuscheler: (Scholar)

Nuscheler defines it as a

  1. permanent impact,
  2. economic efficient/ productive,

  1. social fair and
  2. environmental compatible 

development („dauerhafte, wirtschaftlich leistungsfähige, sozial gerechte und umweltverträgliche Entwicklung“)''


  1. Brundtland Report: Our Common Future
  2. GTZ: Sustainable Development