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Written by Owain JonesMBA in Sustainability student at University of Saint Francis

 

hands treeIt is no secret that in the days of resource abundance and industrial domination, the environment was on the receiving end of much abuse and destruction. As populations grow and resource demand increases, sustainable development becomes more and more important. Turning a blind eye to sustainable development means that all the efforts to restore the environment and lessen the human impact on it would be for not. Businesses are very important to sustainable development because they have the ability to provide sustainable services and products to people, instead of the environment-harming ones of the yesteryears. However, it is important to understand how exactly we are at this point in time where sustainable business is so vital, instead of simply focusing on the fact that through the years the environment was harmed and resources were overused.

 

Ancient cultures, like the aboriginals of North and South America, the Chinese and the Egyptians, were maintained for thousands of years with primitive tools and ideals. This was possible through the ideals of sustainability that our current cultures are still attempting to implement. The ancients knew the main sources of life needed to be in constant supply year after year and that it came directly from nature. Thus, their primitive agriculture was used in a sustainable manner as they rotated crop areas, kept soil fertile, and made sure to understand when one crop was able to grow best through the understanding of the seasons. Water was also known to be very important to life so they were careful never to spoil it. Ancient cultures worshiped nature because it provided them with what they needed and they were sure never to destroy it. The ancient Hawaiians were able to create a sustainable fishing society that rivals the fishing regulations of today. The biggest question to ask is well these cultures don’t exist anymore, so what happened to them and sustainability?

 

The beginning of the misuse of the environment can be traced back to 3000 B.C. when settlements began to realize that nature provided an easy and very exploitable source of comfortable living, such as wood for building. This allowed for settlements to become more of a permanent structure while resources were consumed, creating a boom in populations. New tools and methods of exploiting nature were developed and as a result, there was a steady decrease of the appreciation for nature that the ancients had. As this decreased more, the idea that everything available from nature for human use could be consumed, until it is gone, grew. Settlements began to grow into cities and consumption grew to a point in which a major change had to take place.

 

The major change that occurred around the 1750s was the industrial revolution. This gave way to invention and mass exploitation of natural resources like never before. Coal became a huge resource and it allowed for an expansion of modern civilization to essentially consume all civilizations around the world that were based on ancient and sustainable cultures. This is how we lost sustainability and the thousands of years of cultures that practiced sustainable living. Nature was exploited at an extreme rate to create a human civilization that could live easier than ever and is able to explore the whole world. The implementation of gasoline engines beginning in the early 1900s was the icing on the cake for our disregard for the environment and consumption of natural resources.

 

The environmental revolution of the 1960s and 70s was finally a major stepping-stone to, once again, have a majority of people care about the natural world. The United Nations (UN) held the Conference on Human Environment in 1972 that brought to light the importance of managing our impact on the environment. This led to the development of the common use of the word “sustainability” as we now know it today. In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), sponsored by the UN, published a report called “Our Common Future”. This is where sustainability and sustainable development was first used as we now use it today, sparking its importance again after hundreds of years of environmental destruction.

 

However, this doesn’t mean that there was a complete absence of people who care about sustainability through these years. Many economists in the mid to late 1700s developed the “Theory of Limits,” where they described how continued population growth and resource consumption was eventually going to reach a defined limit. The Earth only has a defined amount of space and resources and once that is gone, it cannot come back. Now, technology has allowed us to recoup some of this but there is still a defined limit if sustainability is not achieved.

 

It is important not to ignore how important sustainability and sustainable development is. Businesses have the resources to be able to implement sustainable plans, allowing the general public to increase their sustainability. Hundreds to thousands of years of environmental mismanagement has eventually led to the importance of sustaining a healthy environment again within the past 40 years. Fully understanding this and how we have our emphasis on sustainability today, will allow for a good basis on why it should be implemented.

 

Resources:

Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways to Manage Fisheries For Sustainability

Sustainability and Sustainable Development: Historical and Conceptual Review by Desta Mebratu of Lund University