Sustainability may best be defined as the “capacity for continuance into the long term future”. Anything “that can go on” being done on an indefinite basis is sustainable. Anything that cannot go on being done indefinitely is unsustainable. Sustainable development is the process by which we move towards sustainability.
There have been many attempts to define sustainable development, the most widely used is the definition that first appeared in the Brundtland Report (1987). The Brundtland Commission Report, “Our Common Future”, put forward the general concept of sustainability and sustainable development as the development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). The commitment to maintain opportunities for future generations is a central theme of sustainable development. This central theme or what may be termed as system sustainability is achieved by integration of economic, social and environmental realms. It is important that efforts to progress in one realm do not cause long run declines or unexpected collapses in other realms. If we are going to look at where we are on the curve of sustainability, we need to take the long view and only then we can bend it in the right direction.
Civilizations have been continuously struggling with how to live within nature’s envelope. More than a million years ago, mankind invented stone tools and fire and a common theory is that even at that time many animal and plant species went extinct due to the new inventions. About 10,000 years ago, we shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture. It is estimated that we had a population of about 3-4 million at that time. Mesopotamia, the most developed civilization of its time, slid into decline some 4,000 years ago after faulty non-sustainable irrigation methods caused a loss in soil fertility. Deforestation and soil degradation have been unwanted side effects of unsustainable development around the world, for at least as long as river valley civilizations have existed. By the dawn of industrial revolution 200 years ago, we were about 800 million in population. Today we have grown seven fold in just three centuries and by using unsustainable methods like large-scale use of fossil fuels, greater consumption of natural resources, we have created a myriad of global, regional, and local problems. As developing nations struggle with issues of overpopulation, disease, and political conflict, developed countries such as the United States and Canada must balance problems such as infrastructure deterioration, pollution, and urban sprawl with limited economic and physical resources to solve them. Hence sustainability is not a new idea, just a new term.
1.0 Sustainable development
Sustainable development is concerned about inter-generational equity, and should not be confused with “optimal development” which is concerned with maximizing the future well being of individuals, regardless of whether sustainability is achieved or not. In order for the welfare of future generations to be sustainable, it is also important to ensure that the present generations do not become impoverished, in order that future generations inherit wealth (Turner, 1993). As mentioned by Dr. Kgathi of the National Institute of Development Research and Documentation, University of Botswana, in his FAQs for Sustainable Use of South African Savannas (2001), “Sustainability is not only concerned about the conservation of the environment, but also about questions of economic efficiency and equity. As Becker et al (1990) put it, “sustainability refers to the viability of socially shaped relationships between society and nature over long periods of time”. The notion of sustainability is based on two fundamental principles, namely quantity sustainability and quality sustainability. The former requires that the quantity of natural resources should not decline over-time as this may reduce their total supply. It requires that natural resources should not be used at a rate which exceeds their rate of replenishment. The latter principle of sustainability requires that the quality of natural resources should not decline over-time as this may reduce their value (Pearce et al, 1994).
The three realms of sustainability mentioned above also define sustainability in another context. Environmental sustainability is defined as “a process of maintaining or improving the integrity of the life support system of the earth” (Holdren et al, 1998). The maintenance and improvement of the life support system of the earth is a necessary condition for welfare of the present and future generations. Economic sustainability, on the other hand, is the maintenance of the stocks of capital or assets in order to produce a non-declining set of benefits (Munasinghe, 1995). Simply stated, this is a situation whereby an investment produces non-declining or constant benefits over-time or leads to “constant stream of consumption” over-time (Munasinghe, 1995). Social sustainability as the name suggests is concerned about the “conservation of social and cultural diversity” (Munasinghe, 1995:31). It is about the preservation of indigenous knowledge on sustainable development, strengthening of institutions that manage natural resources, and more importantly, intra-generational and intergenerational equity (Munasinghe, 1995; Mc Neely, 1997). What this means is that the issues of equity, gender equality, and democracy are central to the notion of social sustainability. Also, social sustainability cannot be achieved without environmental sustainability. As Sachs (1999) puts it ” there is no social development ethics without environmental wisdom, and conversely, no environmental wisdom without social development ethics”. The following diagram called Munasinghe’s triangle shows three realms of sustainability.
It is often asserted, “what gets measured gets managed, what gets reported gets understood”. According to the report published by the National Academy of Engineering, NRC on “Industrial Environmental Performance Metrics” (1999) , little attention has focused on examining the metrics that decision makers use to measure and acquire sustainability. By analyzing these metrics we ask the following questions:
1. Which parameters have to be incorporated into the decision making process.
2. Why are these parameters being incorporated?
3. Have the areas that require more attention been identified?
4. Have the areas that require lesser attention been identified?
The above information will form the basis of the decision-making process and improve the quality of decisions. Decisions are implementable or may even be called sustainable; if well-informed citizens like politicians, high-level public officials, or corporate executives make them, because they have the ability to affect the behaviors of large number of people and resources (Heintz, 1993). Organizations will find new uses for such information in processes such as product development and marketing. Customers will use this information while making product buying decisions or investment in stocks. Government or the financial sector will also integrate such information into lending decisions or investigations regarding overall performance of a corporation (NRC, 1999). Hence a lot lies on the shoulders of people producing the information.
Being a new concept in engineering and technology, the industry is still studying the principles, measures, metrics and indicators of sustainability. Therefore a lack of standardized procedures makes it difficult to implement in a development project. As stated by Miyatake Y. (1996), Professor Charles J. Kibert proposed the following principles to achieve sustainable construction.
i) Minimize resource consumption
ii) Maximize resource reuse
iii) Use renewable or recyclable resources
iv) Protect the natural environment
v) Create a healthy non-toxic environment
vi) Pursue quality in creating the building environment
The old-fashioned way to view a development project, especially a new construction project as just an economic profitable activity rather that a sustainable profitable activity is one of the many obstacle that needs to be communicated to the owners. The need is for creation of built environments, restoration of damaged environments and improvement of harsh environments so that they are profitable. It can be made possible only by working in the following areas:
i) Participation from all stakeholders
iii) Identification of measures
iv) Incorporation of indicators based on identified measures
v) Development of technology
vi) Development of implementation policies
vii) Implementation of sustainable technologies and policies
ix) Feedback cycles
David Wann, in his book “Biologic”, (1994) says that, “the environmental deterioration is a lack of relevant information . . . [and that] poor design is responsible for many, if not most, of our environmental problems”. According to the website for “Sustainable Design for National Parks Society”, Colorado, the above statement supports the line from the book of a famous World Bank Economist Herman Daly (1993), “we are treating the earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” Sustainable design, sustainable development, design with nature, environmentally sensitive design, environmentally friendly design, holistic resource management – regardless of what it’s called, the capability of all the systems being continued over time, is the key.
As mentioned above, Sustainability does not require a loss in the quality of life, but does require a change in mind-set, a change in values toward less consumptive lifestyles. Richard Giamberdine and Robert Lopenske, (1994) while creating guiding principles for a Sustainable Design for National Parks Service, US Department of Interior, mentioned that the changes must embrace global interdependence, environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic viability. Sustainable design must use an alternative or modified approach to traditional design that incorporates these changes in mind-set. The new design approach must recognize the impacts of every design choice on the natural and cultural resources of the local, regional, and global environments. A model of the new design principles necessary for sustainability is exemplified by the “Hannover Principles” or “Bill of Rights for the Planet,” developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in 1992 and adopted by EXPO 2000, Hannover, Germany.
i) Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse, and sustainable condition.
ii) Recognize Interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend on the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.
iii) Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry, and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.
iv) Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to co-exist.
v) Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creations of products, processes, or standards.
vi) Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems in which there is no waste.
vii) Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
viii) Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.
ix) Seek constant improvements by sharing knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers, and users to link long-term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and reestablish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.
Having established the importance of sustainability, sustainable development and sustainable design, it becomes mandatory to establish the measures of a sustainable design. The following paragraphs emphasize the selection of such measures.
2.0 Measuring Sustainability
Moving from planning to action by measuring what counts. Sustainability of a complex system on the whole is not an easy task to measure. For a development project it becomes even more challenging, because of the intangible issues and subjective manifestations. A measure is the result of the activity involved in determining a dimension, i.e., size, etc. through measuring. Measures should be objective, timely, simple, accurate, useful, and cost-effective. Good measures can focus a public debate and help society and its agents to reach consensus on the facts that undermine or support a sustainable state.
G. Ofori (1998) stated that the confusion about the definition of sustainability based on conservation and human needs concepts and the disagreement about what is to be sustained is mainly because there is not a clear guideline. In my judgment, the following are the best measures available, given accessible and historic data. They might not be fully sufficient to guide decision-making toward a sustainable state. The purpose of this paper is to create an extensive list of measures to the fullest and then go to the relevant professionals of the contemporary and ask for their priorities. Hoping that it will be easier for professionals to pick from an available list as compared to generate a list of their own.
3.0 Measuring overall Sustainability
As described earlier sustainability can be measured in different realms, but what really matters is the overall sustainability of a development project, community or a society. Overall sustainability can also be termed as system sustainability and mainly depends on institutions implementing. Following are the themes and sub-themes to be considered for institutional sustainability.
3.1 Institutional framework
Appropriate legal and policy instruments are required as an institutional framework to develop and promote sustainable development. The following are major requirements of an institutional framework.
a. Strategic implementation
b. International cooperation
3.2 Institutional capacity
The capacity of an institution to implement the international agreements related to sustainable development at a higher level is very important for over all sustainability. Many public and private organizations are developing indices, sustainability management systems, and tools. The capacity of a body to use them efficiently and be able to gather all relevant data is highly desirable. Some of the tools are listed below:
i) Dow Jones sustainability index
Launched in 1999, claims to be the first global index tracking the financial performance of leading sustainability driven companies, world-wide.
ii) Environmental sustainability index (ESI)
It is an index to measure overall progress towards environmental sustainability, developed by a collaboration of World Economic Forum’s Global leaders for Tomorrow Environment Task Force, The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Columbia University Center of International Earth Science Information Network.
iii) Dashboard of sustainability
It is free, non-commercial software that allows to present complex relationships between three main realms of sustainability in a format aimed at decision makers and citizens interested in sustainable development.
iv) Index of sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW)
As promoted by an independent consultant Maureen Hart, (2000), sustainability requires an integrated view of the world — it requires multidimensional indicators that show the links among a community’s economy, environment, and society. For example, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a well-publicized traditional indicator, measures the amount of money being spent in a country. It is generally reported as a measure of the country’s economic well-being: the more money being spent, the higher the GDP and the better the overall economic well-being is assumed to be. However, because GDP reflects only the amount of economic activity, regardless of the effect of that activity on the community’s social and environmental health, GDP can go up when overall community health goes down. For example, when there is a ten-car pileup on the highway, the GDP goes up because of the money spent on medical fees and repair costs. On the other hand, if ten people decide not to buy cars and instead walk to work, their health and wealth may increase but the GDP goes down. ISEW adds and subtracts corrections to the GDP to get a clearer picture of sustainability.
v) The Ecological footprint
The ecological footprint measures the resources consumed by a community or a nation, whether they come from the community’s backyard or from around the globe. Earlier studies had determined a community or nation’s “carrying capacity” — the number of people a society can support before it loses its ability to support itself. Wackernagel and Rees’ (1996) innovation adds in richer countries’ use of trade and technology to import resources they don’t possess. Wackernagel and Rees ask how many hectares or acres are needed per person to support a nation’s consumption of food, housing, transportation, consumer goods, and services. They calculate how much fossil energy use, land degradation, and garden, crop, pasture, and forest space it takes to produce all that consumers buy.
For example, Wackernagel and Rees determined that Vancouver, British Columbia, their home, runs a large “ecological deficit” with the rest of the world. As they calculate it, Vancouver needs an area 19 times larger than its 4,000 square kilometers to support the food production, forestry products, and energy consumption of the region. Based on 1991 figures, the U.S. ecological footprint was 5.1 hectares per person, or over 12.5 acres. In contrast, each resident of India requires 0.4 hectares or just over two acres to maintain his or her livelihood per year.
vi) LEED, Green building rating system
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System represents the U.S. Green Building Council’s effort to provide a national standard for what constitutes a “green building”. Through its use as a design guideline and as a third party certification tool, it aims to improve occupant well being, environmental performance and economic returns of buildings using established and innovative practices, standards and technologies. LEED recognizes achievements and promotes expertise in green building through a comprehensive system offering project certification, professional accreditation, training and practical resources.
vii) ISO 14000
Many companies are now familiar with the 9000 series of international standards dealing with quality systems. As a continuation of this standardization process, the ISO-14000 series of international standards have been developed for incorporating environmental aspects into operations and product standards. In September 1996, the International Committee finalized the ISO 14001 standards for environmental management systems. Similar to the Quality Management System (QMS) implemented for ISO 9001, the ISO14001 requires implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS) in accordance with defined internationally recognized standards (as set forth in the ISO14001 specification). The ISO14001 standard specifies requirements for establishing an environmental policy, determining environmental aspects & impacts of products/activities/services, planning environmental objectives and measurable targets, implementation & operation of programs to meet objectives & targets, checking & corrective action, and management review.
viii) ASTM Sustainability assessment (ASTM)
This practice offers a set of instructions for collecting data to be used in assessing the sustainability of elements or products for use in both commercial and residential buildings. There are many features of a building that contribute to sustainability; one of them is the selection of products for use in a building. Other key features influencing sustainability include, but are not limited to: overall efficiency of the design of the building, the impact the building has on the habits of the occupants, and the impact the building has on the microclimate and macroclimate. This standard addresses sustainability issues related to building elements. This standard does not address sustainability issues related to overall building design, site selection, building operations, or other features influencing sustainability. While it is recommended that users rely on professional judgment informed by both environmental expertise and specific knowledge of the intended use of the product, this standard provides no instruction as to interpretation of the data obtained. Interpretation of the data obtained is the responsibility of the user of this standard.
ix) BEES Software
The BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software is a powerful technique for selecting cost-effective, environmentally-preferable building products. It is developed by the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Building and Fire Research Laboratory with support from the U.S. EPA, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. Version 3.0 of the Windows-based decision support software, aimed at designers, builders, and product manufacturers, includes actual environmental and economic performance data for nearly 200 building products. BEES measures the environmental performance of building products by using the life-cycle assessment approach specified in ISO 14000 standards. All stages in the life of a product are analyzed: raw material acquisition, manufacture, transportation, installation, use, and recycling and waste management. Economic performance is measured using the ASTM standard life cycle cost method, which covers the costs of initial investment, replacement, operation, maintenance and repair, and disposal. Environmental and economic performances are combined into an overall performance measure using the ASTM standard for Multi-Attribute Decision Analysis. For the entire BEES analysis, building products are defined and classified according to the ASTM standard classification for building elements known as UNIFORMAT II.
BEES in supported in part by the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program. The EPP program is charged with carrying out Executive Order 13101, “Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition,” which encourages Executive agencies to reduce the environmental burdens associated with the $200 billion in products and services they buy each year, including building products. BEES is being further developed as a tool to assist the Federal procurement community in the United States in carrying out Executive Order 13101.
x) The SEEDA sustainability checklist
The South East England Development agency has created an elaborate sustainability checklist tool which allows the sustainability aspects of a development to be addressed, and for reviewing organizations such as local authorities, SEEDA and Government Office of the South East (GO-SE) to understand the level of performance that might be achieved. It may also be used by developers to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of their development.
Most of the tools listed above are useful for measuring sustainability either during the design stage or after a project is executed. In the prevailing circumstances enforcing appropriate tools, means and methods becomes a major challenge for institutions. The following are major requirements for institutional capacity.
a. Information access
b. Communication infrastructure
c. Science and technology
d. Research efforts
e. Disaster preparedness and response.
In this paper, measures are being divided in three basic realms of sustainability – environmental, social and economic. Many more aspects of sustainability like natural, generational, educational, technological, political, legal, managerial and safety can be discussed as separate realms, but for ease of management in this paper they are incorporated inside the three basic realms of sustainability.
4. Measuring Environmental Sustainability
From an environmental standpoint, a sustainable system puts no more stress on the natural ecosystems than they can bear indefinitely without harm (Heeney, 1995). This means that the resources withdrawn from the nature and the waste that is returned have to be carefully controlled. There are four main themes to be considered for environmental sustainability, namely, atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity. The idea is to utilize these themes for development and rehabilitation of a development project continuously without depleting them either in terms of quantity or quality.
The principal human activities contributing to atmospheric change relate to fossil fuel consumption for energy production and transportation. In addition, land use change, including deforestation, industrial processes, intensive agriculture, and waste disposal contribute to atmospheric pollution. Conversely, forest ecosystems are also significant carbon sinks for greenhouse gases. While some gains have been achieved through greater efficiency, fuel substitution, and the use of renewable energy, emission levels have continued to climb due to overall increases in energy use and transportation. To achieve these goals, the following sub themes have to be incorporated in the process for development of indicators against which progress can be measured:
4.1a. Climate change
As per United Nations framework on climate change, Kyoto Protocol (December, 1997), the principal human activities contributing to atmospheric change relate to fossil fuel consumption for energy production and transportation. In addition, land use change, including deforestation, industrial processes, intensive agriculture, and waste disposal contribute to atmospheric pollution. Conversely, forest ecosystems are also significant carbon sinks for greenhouse gases. Climate change is widely recognized as a serious threat to the world’s environment and is largely a consequence of unsustainable consumption and production patterns. Expected impacts include sea level rise with the possible flooding of low lying areas, higher temperatures, melting of glaciers and ice caps, and more extreme weather patterns with implications for floods and droughts. The socio-economic effects are expected to be widespread, but have particular significance to agriculture, forests, marine ecosystems, and small island states.
4.1b. Stratospheric and tropospheric ozone levels
The thickness of the ozone layer, which protects the earth from damaging ultraviolet radiation, has decreased significantly over the last 20 years. The anthropogenic emissions of ozone-depleting substances are derived from their use as solvents, refrigerants, foam-blowing agents, spray propellants, fire extinguishers, and agricultural pesticides. Increases in ultraviolet radiation at the earth’s surface can damage human health resulting in skin cancer, eye cataracts, and suppression of the immune system. In addition, marine and terrestrial ecosystems can be affected through reduced photosynthesis and production of phytoplankton.
4 .1c. Acidification
Acidification is caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia. Sulfur makes the biggest contribution to acidification, although nitrogen compounds also contribute. When the soil becomes acidified its essential nutrients are leached out, which reduces the fertility of the soil. The acidification process also releases metals that can harm the micro-organisms in the soil that are responsible for decomposition, as well as birds and mammals higher up the food chain, including man.
Natural eutrophication is the process by which lakes gradually age and become more productive. It normally takes thousands of years to progress. However, humans, through their various cultural activities, have greatly accelerated this process in thousands of lakes around the globe. This water pollution caused by excessive plant nutrients. The excessive growth, or “blooms”, of algae promoted by these plant nutrients change water quality lead to oxygen depletion and resultant fish kills. Many native fish species disappear to be replaced by species more resistant to the new conditions. Beaches and shorelines are fouled by masses of rotting, stinking algae.
4.1e. Air quality
A variety of air pollutants have known or suspected harmful effects on human health and the environment. These pollutants are principally the products of combustion from space heating, power generation or from motor vehicle traffic. Pollutants from these sources may not only prove a problem in the immediate vicinity of these sources but can travel long distances, chemically reacting in the atmosphere to produce secondary pollutants such as acid rain or ozone. Clean air is a requisite for healthy human lives and environmental quality. Unhealthy air can cause severe respiratory ailments and increase the incidence of chronic illnesses such as emphysema or cancer. Air quality is a measure that leads us to interrelationships such as those between air pollution, transportation efficiency, land use and industrial emissions. Governments set acceptable/ healthy air standards for various pollutants like, SO2, NO2, CO, Ozone, Lead, TSP, Benzene, 1,2 Butadene, etc. They can be used as indicators to measure the quality of air. The number of clean air days per year can also be used as in indicator.
Land consists not only of the physical space and the surface topography, but includes the associated natural resources of soil, mineral deposits, water, and plant and animal communities. Use of the land in an unsustainable way affects these resources, as well as the atmosphere and marine ecosystems. Land is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, particularly quality land for primary production of biomass and for conservation, due to expanding human requirements. The magnitude of land use and land cover changes threatens the stability and resilience of ecosystems through, for example, global warming and disruption of the global nitrogen cycle.
Quality and area of available farmland is an important indicator of sustainability. Food production is a foundation of civilization. Local production of food brings down the energy costs of shipment from other states or continents as well as processing and handling costs. Local production reduces dependency on distant and often unstable foreign sources.
Unsustainable forest management is causing massive soil erosion and biodiversity loss, as well as negatively effecting the economic future of many countries. At its Eighth Session, the Commission on Sustainable Development (2000) suggested the following areas for future work related to integrated land management.
i) Prevention and/or mitigation of land degradation
ii) Access to land and security of tenure
iii) Critical sectors and issues including forests, drylands, rehabilitation of land-mined areas, and rural-urban and land management interactions
iv) Access to information and stakeholder participation
v) International cooperation for capacity building, information sharing, and technology transfer; and
vi) Rehabilitation of land degraded by mining.
Urbanization tends to shift consumption patterns towards horticultural crops, meat, and dairy products. Increased livestock numbers, while creating income opportunities, could amplify overgrazing, encourage deforestation, and increase health risks. According to the Report of the Secretary General, Commission on Sustainable Development, (2000), desertification affects 1.6 billion people in over 100 countries. Land degradation, including compaction, erosion, fertility decline, loss of biomass and soil biodiversity, occurs on about 2 billion hectares. Although successes are apparent in specific countries, efforts at implementing integrated land management have yet to significantly ameliorate these trends.
A country is considered urbanized if over 50% of its population lives in urban areas. The first country to become urbanized was Great Britain. The slower urbanization occurs, the easier it is to deal with it. Rapid urbanization means rapid increase in numbers of urban people who need land, housing, water, electricity, health care and schooling. It is evident that urbanization is bound to cause social unrest and environmental degradation.
Freshwater is essential to support human life, ecosystems and economic development. According to United Nations Environment Program, at present one third of the human population lives areas with less or moderate water stress. By 2025, two thirds of the world population will be living in water-stressed countries (GEO, 2000).
4.3a. Oceans and seas
Oceans occupy about 70% of earth’s surface. They are highly productive ecosystems and continuously recycle chemicals, nutrients and water. The recycling process in the oceans and sees regulates global weather, climate and temperatures.
4.3b. Coastal areas
Coastal ecosystems like coral reefs, wetlands and mangrove forests are significant to biodiversity and support valuable natural resources. Coastal areas accommodate one thirds of the human population living in cities that are associated with key ecosystems like river estuaries. Based on the United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea, ecosystem approach to protect oceans and coastal areas, is a precautionary approach to adopt the concept of integrated marine and coastal area management.
4.3c. Fresh water
Freshwater is essential to support human life, ecosystems, and economic development. It supports domestic water supplies, food production, fisheries, industry, hydro power generation, navigation, and recreation. The ecosystem services of freshwater systems include food production, reduction of flood risk, and the filtering of pollutants. The global issues of health, poverty, climate change, deforestation, desertification, and land use change are all directly associated with the water resource and its management. Human activities are the primary source of contaminants and human development often results in the degradation of wetlands; a key to natural water purification systems. The presence of toxins and parasites in water sources generally increases as the surrounding land is converted from a natural state to an agricultural or urban land use. Ground water and drinking water quality can be used as in indicator when tested in light of the allowable standards.
Biological diversity consists not only of variety among species, but also genetic variation within species, and variation between communities of species, habitats and ecosystems. This biodiversity of genes, species, and ecosystems contributes essential products and services to human welfare. Maintaining biodiversity helps ensure that the Earth will continue to perform natural ecological processes upon which all life depends. Major changes, loss, or degradation of biodiversity can result in serious economic, social, and cultural impacts; and have profound ecological and ethical implications.
As development penetrates into ecosystems, plants and animals they support begin to disappear. Biodiversity is a source of enjoyment for outdoor enthusiasts but is also a strong indicator of the health of an ecosystem. It proves that all forms of life including ours is being supported. Breeding bird populations are also a strong indicator of an healthy ecosystem because many birds are adapted to only one type of habitat. A change in habitat will produce a sudden decline in that species.
Biodiversity can be adversely affected by over-harvesting or illegal take of species or the introduction of exotic species. Loss of habitat, pollution, climatic change land degradation also create a harmful affect on biodiversity. According to the United Nations environment program GEO, (2000) 25% of world’s mammals and 11% of birds were faced with a significant risk of extinction. Food security, freshwater security, and human health needs are all directly associated with the maintenance and use of biodiversity.
5. Measuring Social Sustainability
The social dimension of sustainability encompasses the political, the cultural and all people-centered issues, except the economic. It entails ensuring that the basic conditions for human life to flourish exist within a society and a development project does not endanger the social sustainability of a region. It has to be kept in mind that social sustainability cannot be achieved without a healthy and sustainable natural environment and economy. United Nations recognizes the specific roles and responsibilities of nine major groups of civil society, namely, women, children, indigenous people, NGOs, Local authorities, Workers and Trade unions, business community, scientific community, and farmers.. There are six basic themes to be considered for social sustainability and their corresponding sub themes are given below:
When people and their quality of life is considered as a central issue, the concept of equity becomes a principal social value. Impoverished people may feel isolated and face problems related to insecure livelihoods, malnutrition and civil insecurity linked to violence, strife and corruption. The concentration of poverty leads to other environment related issues like land degradation and over-exploitation.
Governments calculate a minimum level of income required to provide for an individual’s basic needs, like food, shelter and healthcare. This minimum level is called the poverty line. Number of people living below the poverty line can be used as in indicator. Employment rate is also an indicator of poverty.
5.1b. Gender equality
The lower the ratio of salary offered to women vis-à-vis their male counterpart, the less the attraction for women to join the labor force. This determines the level of women participation in the economy. Ratio of average female wage to male wage can be used as an indicator of sustainability.
Poor health is associated with decreased productivity, particularly in labor-intensive domains. Development cannot be achieved if a large population is unhealthy or has inadequate access to health care.
5.2a. Nutritional status
Meeting primary health needs care and the nutritional requirement of people in general and children in particular is fundamental to the achievement of sustainable development. Anthropometrical measurements to assess growth and development, particularly in young children, are the most widely used indicators of nutritional status of a society.
One of the most supported development goals is to reduce the childhood mortality. According to the World population prospects (1998) during 1995-2000, under-5 mortality was at 11/1000 for developed countries but at 156/1000 for developing countries. This gap between developed and less developed countries is influenced by poverty, education, health care services, environmental risks and malnutrition.
Sanitation is directly related to poverty. By alleviating poverty one can help the deprived gain sustained access to water and sanitation services. By bringing institutional reforms, creating innovative technological solutions and creating investment support, various water supply and sanitation goals can be achieved.
5.2d. Drinking water
Provision of improved water lowers fecal risk and frequency of associated diseases. It is a universal indicator of human development and can be associated with other socio-economic factors like income, education and equity. Proportion of population with access to improved water source is an important indicator of sustainable development.
5.2e. Health care delivery
Delivery of healthcare can be used as an indicator of sustainability and to monitor the progress in the access of the population to primary health care. Accessibility of health services, going beyond just physical access, and including economic, social and cultural accessibility and acceptability, is of fundamental significance to reflect on health system progress, equity and sustainable development. It should, however, be supplemented by indicators of utilization of services, or actual coverage, and quality of care.
The following quote by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees in the book our Ecological footprint (1996) shows the need for educating our societies; ”If everybody lived like today’s North Americans, it would take at least two additional planet Earths to produce the resources, absorb the wastes, and otherwise maintain life-support. Unfortunately, good planets are hard to find.”
Today educators face a compelling responsibility to serve society by fostering the transformations needed to set us on the path to sustainable development. According to Agenda 21, the document produced by United Nations conference on the Environment and Development (1992), education is critical to promoting sustainable development. It requires all stakeholders to engage themselves in disciplines like adult education, on-the-job training, formal and informal education programs etc.
Education provides common experience and transmits culture, enabling us to function as a whole society. High school and college graduation rates may serve as an indicator of our success in educating youth to become productive members of society. These rates show the percentage of the population above the age of twenty-five who have high school diplomas or college degrees.
5.3b. Education level
There is a close association between the general level of education attained and the persistence of poverty irrespective of the level of country’s development. It is vital to changing people’s attitudes to achieve ethical awareness, values, skills and behaviors. Adult literacy rate, and adult secondary education achievement level can be used as indicators for sustainable development.
Rural-urban migration occurs in search of more job opportunities but creates many social and economic problems like population concentration, inadequate planning and financial resources, and unemployment. Inadequate housing and poor living conditions are associated with poverty, poor health, social exclusion, family instability, insecurity, violence, and environmental degradation.
5.4a. Living conditions
According to the report of the Secretary General, Commission on Sustainable Development May27, 1994, by the year 2005, the majority of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Many countries have tried to improve the living conditions of their communities by improvements in housing policies, improving land and market conditions, and facilitating access to credit. Floor area per person can be used as an indicator of sustainable development.
Traditionally workplace safety and health issues have had little or no profile in the discourse around sustainability. However, once the safety-sustainability “connect” is raised within this context not many people would even dare to agree that companies that consistently kill or maim their employees can be regarded as being sustainable. An organization should recognize the impact of its operations on the surrounding communities and should aim to encourage long-term development of skills and economic improvement in areas where it operates. Many of today’s business leaders are aware of the sustainability debate and believe there’s “something in it”. Thus the challenges of ‘operationalising sustainability’ in a way that builds business value and benefits society are already a major preoccupation for executives in today’s more progressive corporations, and will have to be confronted by many others (Guilding, Humphries and Hogarth, 2002).
One of the aims of Sustainable Development is to guarantee every citizen’s personal safety and control the levels of violent crime like murders, manslaughters, and suicides. Crime prevention needs greater resources. Increased finances for law-enforcing agencies are required to prevent drug-related offenses, solve financial crimes, and avert organized crime.
Jack Kemp, who was then the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was informed of a report from the United Nations that told of resource problems that would arise because of increasing populations, it was reported that he said, “Nonsense, people are not a drain on the resources of the planet.” (Kemp, 1992), Contrast the statement with the words of the biologist Edward O. Wilson from Harvard University, during his address on Capitol Hill (1998), “The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.” As populations grow and demands on resources increase, an aspect of the problem that is often overlooked is the fact that there are major fluctuations in the ability of the environment to satisfy our needs.
According to the World Urbanization Prospects (1999), by 2030, the world population is expected to be 8.1 billion, with virtually all the growth concentrated in urban areas, particularly the cities of developing countries. The proportion of people living in urban areas is expected to increase from 46.6% in 1998, to 54.5% in 2015, and to 60.5% in 2030. Such trends will continue the rural to urban migration patterns and rapid transformation of rural settlements into cities. This will place enormous strain on existing social services and infrastructure in cities, much of which will not be able to expand at the same rate as the population increases.
5.6a. Population dynamics
Population growth, at both national and sub-national levels, represents a fundamental indicator for national decision-makers. Its significance must be analyzed in relation to other factors affecting sustainability. However, rapid population growth can place strain on a country’s capacity for handling a wide range of issues of economic, social, and environmental significance, particularly when rapid population growth occurs in conjunction with poverty and lack of access to resources, or unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, or in ecologically vulnerable zones. Population growth rate can be used as an indicator to judge the sustainability of a development.
6. Measuring Economic Sustainability
In the past the guidelines to improve sustainability in development projects were often limited to ecological aspects, or perhaps were supplemented by social themes and ironically economic concepts were often excluded (Becker, 2002). Becker working for Jetzt & Morgen, an independent research group from Freiberg Germany emphasizes that economic criteria such as net present value and economic rate of return are widely used, through cost-benefit analysis, to guide project design and selection. In cost-benefit analysis, project benefits are typically measured by monetary willingness to pay as revealed through the market system. This approach can conflict with social welfare objectives. In order to achieve a balance, economic sustainability should be considered hand in hand with social sustainability issues. The idea is to maintain existing economic levels and provide incentives to enhance the economic livelihoods of the people being affected by the project. Most systems have finite economic resources to solve problems: for example, if a roof needs to be replaced, there is only so much money to do the job. Sustainable systems will solve their own problems by making use of the resources available and considering the whole life cycle of the system. In our example there may be two different ways of replacing a roof. One of them may cost very little to install, but me need a lot of maintenance every year and may last ten years. Other roof may cost more in the beginning, require zero maintenance and may last for twenty years. From the long-term perspective of the economic sustainability, the second roof seems more sustainable if the money can be found in the beginning to install it.
Economic sustainability means living off of our income and not the capital – including manufactured capital, human capital and environmental capital. Economic sustainability and environmental stability highly depend on each other. If people are preoccupied with the issues of survival, that is likely to supersede any concern about capital conservation. Problems that can occur if economic sustainability is not considered in a development project are as follows:
a. Funds required for the project might create a huge debt – keeps the society reliant on grants
c. Lack of maintenance funds and options
d. Excessive cost to taxpayers
e. Prone to problems caused by changing economic conditions
f. Mass migration to other centers. Highways make it easier to leave towns if there is no economic activity left in hometowns to retain or attract people.
The following themes and sub-themes are to be considered for economic sustainability.
6.1 Economic structure
Canada can be considered, along with Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, as a “dominion capitalist” economy. Such economies were initially created by European imperial colonization within a broader imperial system controlled by the colonial power, and typically combined a reliance on primary and commodity-based exports with heavily protected but weak manufacturing & services sector. The Canadian economy, like that of all industrial capitalist societies, is currently ecologically unsustainable. Some would argue that sustainability is not economically based or economically feasible. They would argue that business couldn’t’t profit through sustainability, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
6.1a. Economic performance
Making trade and environment mutually supportive, providing new and additional financial resources and encouraging macroeconomic policies favorable to environment and development support economic performance.
Trade liberalization also has positive effects on sustainable development. It can stimulate economic diversification, improve the efficiency of resource allocation, increase environmentally sound trade restrictions, and encourage the transfer of cleaner, more efficient technologies.
6.1c. Financial Status
Economic development generally has been interpreted as increases in a country’s real per capita income that affect broad segments of the population and in which the productivity of resources is enhanced as new stocks of resources are generated. Rising levels of purchasing power parity (PPP) real GDP per capita serve as a benchmark for economic growth, while broader measures such as UNDP’s Human Development Index, HDI, serve as indicators of development. The financial status of a development project or a developer is of utmost importance for the sustainability of the project. The outstanding obligations of an entity in relation to the income generating power have to be closely evaluated before embarking on a project.
6.2 Consumption and production patterns
It is widely acknowledged that the Earth cannot support the consumption levels of industrialized countries on a global scale. In addition, such high levels of consumption affect the consumption and production options of future generations. The following primary actions are recommended:
i) Encouraging greater efficiency in the use of energy and resources;
ii) Minimizing the generation of wastes;
iii) Assisting individuals to make environmentally sound consumer decisions
iv) Showing leadership through institutional purchasing
v) Moving towards environmentally sound pricing
6.2a. Material consumption
A change to more sustainable lifestyles calls for the concerted combined efforts of governments, producers, and consumers. It requires less emphasis on material consumption, more emphasis on resource and energy-efficient technologies, a stronger commitment to meeting the needs of the poor, and a focus on economic systems that account for social and environmental costs. Such a fundamental change is very difficult to achieve because of strongly ingrained beliefs and behaviors.
6.2b. Energy use
Sustainable energy includes a variety of technologies and management practices that utilize low-impact renewable energy resources, promote energy conservation, and enhance energy efficiency. Sustainable energy options have many social and environmental benefits that need to be acknowledged, quantified, and reflected in the energy marketplace in order to support their growth in any sector. Per capita BTU consumption is a good measure of energy consumption. However, as an indicator of our general level of sustainability concerning energy, it is incomplete. We need to establish benchmarks. To do this, we need to know how much energy can be produced from sustainable sources, what percent of our energy comes from unsustainable sources, and what are sustainable levels of waste production.
6.2c. Waste generation and management
The precise definition of what constitutes solid waste is variable, but principally it can be considered as that material which has no further useful purpose and is discarded. It is, therefore, perceived to have no commercial value to the producer. This does not, however, preclude it being of value to some other party. Solid waste is generally produced in three ways:
i) Through the production and consumption of goods and services;
ii) Through the processing of wastes from these services; and
ii) Through end-of-pipe control or treatment of emissions.
Waste is generally reported based on source under the following categories:
ii) Construction wastes
iii) Energy production wastes
iv) Agricultural wastes
v) Municipal wastes
vi) Industrial waste or sludge.
Industrial wastes can be expressed in terms of tones per annum or in some cases related to the production volume of the product being processed or manufactured. Municipal wastes are produced by a variety of establishments in the urban environment in addition to households, including institutions such as schools, government buildings, commercial establishments such as hospitals and hotels, and some scattered sources of hazardous wastes.
Travel is an essential part of the economic and social life of a country. Non-motorized travel has low environmental impact, and due to the level of physical exertion involved, also brings health benefits. However, it is only suitable for local journeys. Motorized travel is the only suitable means of traveling longer distances, but has greater environmental and social impacts, such as pollution, global warming, and accidents. Sustainability implies using the most appropriate mode of transport for the journey in question and decoupling travel from economic development. Policies are needed which reduce the need for travel, support a shift towards less environmentally damaging means, provide incentives for changes in lifestyle, increase safety, and improve the standard of public transport (transit).
We the people many times ‘over-produce’ and ‘over-consume’, because we are not paying for the costs of dealing with it at the moment and we are not taking the responsibility of thinking of the costs our future generations will have to pay. Sustainability means responsibility to be shown by each and every individual of our society.