Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
Defining Sustainability - What Do
We Really Mean?
3) Make the most efficient use of non-renewable
resources and on-farm resources and integrate,
where appropriate, natural biological cycles and
4) Sustain the economic viability of farm
operations and
5) Enhance the quality of life for farmers and
society as a whole.
Today there are many different definitions for
sustainability as defined by companies, govern-
ments or individuals. However, the concept of
sustainability or sustainable development
has its origins at the United Nations. In 1987,
the United Nations World Commission on
Environment and Development published the
Brundtland Report, more frequently known
as 'Our Common Future'. In this report, the
Commission discussed the challenges facing a
growing human population living in a world of
finite resources and focused on the opportunities
and solutions possible through 'sustainable
development'. In an often quoted phrase, the UN
Commission stated, 'Humanity has the ability to
make development sustainable to ensure that it
meets the needs of the present without compro-
mising the ability of future generations to meet
their own needs' (WCED, 1987). This definition
has continually evolved since its inception as it
has been applied to different settings and by vari-
ous actors and stakeholders. Nevertheless, this
concept has been a significant force in guiding
concepts of sustainability in the decades since.
This broad-based definition included many
aspects of the three traditional components
of sustainability now considered common -
environmental, social and economic sustainability
(Fig. 13.1). This common trio of sustainability
'pillars' was not however coined until more than
a decade later at the 2002 United Nations
World Summit on Sustainable Development in
South Africa. The conference stated a 'collective
responsibility to advance and strengthen the
interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars
of sustainable development - economic develop-
ment, social development and environmental
protection - at the local, national, regional, and
global levels' (United Nations, 2002). Today,
sustainable development is frequently consid-
ered in the context of these three pillars, despite
earlier definitions of sustainability largely being
focused on environmental aspects. As a result,
this definition laid the groundwork for advanc-
ing concepts of social sustainability and setting
goals and targets for achieving it.
Advancing sustainability definitions
It was only 2 years after the UN report that
the first published definitions of sustainable
agriculture also appeared. In 1989 the American
Society of Agronomy stated in a publication,
'A sustainable agriculture is one that, over the
long term, enhances environmental quality and
the resource base on which agriculture depends;
provides for basic human food and fibre needs;
is economically viable; and enhances the qual-
ity of life for farmers and society as a whole'
(Agronomy News, 1989). One year later, the US
government (US Congress, 1990) formally defined
sustainable agriculture in the 1990 Farm Bill as:
An integrated system of plant and animal
production practices having a site-specific
application that will, over the long term …
1) Satisfy human food and fiber needs
2) Enhance environmental quality and the
natural resource base upon which the agricultural
economy depends
Social sustainability as a
pillar of sustainability
Early efforts for sustainable development fre-
quently emphasized the concept of environmen-
tal sustainability, in part stemming from the
environmental activism of the 1960s and 1970s,
while economic and social sustainability had
been of less focus (McKenzie, 2004). Consumer
and society demands and desires related to sus-
tainable animal agriculture production also
play a major role in advancements towards
sustainability. The large number of eco-labels
on the market today indicates a strong desire for
environmental sustainability from consumers;
certifications and labels for social and economic
sustainability measures have been less rapid to
enter the market place. One notable example is the
creation of fair trade labels that aim to ensure
that farmers and farm-workers were paid a living
Search WWH ::

Custom Search