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Sustainable Development

Oliver Parodi
Ignacio Ayestaran
Gerhard Banse


Ignacio Ayestaran, Gerhard Banse et Oliver Parodi

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1Looking back, in 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) published a global report– Our Common Future–that analysed the links between development and environment, and challenged policy-makers to consider the global interrelationships among environment, economic and social issues. The report examined emerging global challenges in six issues: population and human resources, food security, species and ecosystems, energy, industry, and urbanization. The Brundtland Commission recommended institutional and legal changes in six broad areas to address these challenges: getting at the sources, dealing with the effects, assessing global risks, making informed choices, providing the legal means, and investing in our future. The report of the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development internationally as “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The commission further explained that, “the concept of sustainable development implies limits–not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities”.

2In 2007 the United Nations Environment Programme published the Global Environment Outlook 4: Environment for Development (GEO-4) report 20 years after the Brundtland Commission produced its seminal work. This work was a comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1,000 others across the world. The GEO-4 report assessed the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, described the changes since 1987, and identified priorities for action. It examined institutional developments and changes in thought since the mid-1980s, and explored the relationships involving environment, development and human well-being. This inquiry reviewed major environmental, social and economic trends, and their impacts on environment and human well-being, and provided options to help achieve sustainable development.

3According to GEO-4, over the past 20 years, the international community has cut, by 95 per cent, the production of ozone-layer damaging chemicals; created a greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty along with innovative carbon trading and carbon offset markets; supported a rise in terrestrial protected areas to cover roughly 12 per cent of the Earth, and devised numerous important instruments covering issues from biodiversity and desertification to the trade in hazardous wastes and living modified organisms. But today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.3 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and four months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the mid 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one: one planet and many people; one world and many cultural issues.

4GEO-4 recalls the Brundtland Commission’s statement that the world does not face separate crises: the environmental crisis, the development crisis and the energy crisis are all one. In this way, the idea of ‘sustainability culture’ is not a peripheral consequence of the philosophy and management of sustainable development; it is, rather, of central importance to it. The environmental crisis is a cultural crisis. Environmental change and development challenges are caused by the same sets of drivers. They include population change, economic processes, scientific and technological innovations, distribution patterns, and cultural, social, political and institutional processes. To be able to determine more precisely the role and function of the idea of sustainability, we need to get to the core of cultural practice and identity; and to get there, we need to consider first of all the interest underlying cultural reality and secondly the fundamental assumptions motivated by that interest in our (un) sustainable societies.

5We still lack analysis of the role and significance of the culture for sustainable development. To anticipate hypothetically and empirically such analyses, we may, however, present several scholars who have studied and investigated issues concerning this realm. The aim of this book is to provide information about the epistemic, ethical and cultural implications of those contemporary changes and emerging challenges. The emergence of a global and technological world and its accelerating dissemination at the beginning of the 21st century not only raises technological, economic, social, environmental, political and educational tasks. Significant philosophical questions and epistemic reflections also arise, designing a new paradigm for sustainability. We – homo sapiens – recognize that we are no longer, and never really were the biological masters and possessors of Nature that Descartes imagined for our role in the world. At the present time we need new epistemic contexts and contests not least because our planet is covered by a global and technological network of living information.

6Concerning the cultural dimension of sustainable development we need a better understanding in two directions: first, culture as a condition for sustainable development, and second, culture as an aim of sustainable development. And: The cultural dimension of sustainable development includes two different main topics, cultural heritage on the on side and specific (sustainable!) patterns of action (patterns of consummation, of traffic,…) on the other side.

7First analyses in the field of the relationships between sustainable development and culture have two conclusions as a result:

  • there is a necessity of a “culture of sustainable development”;
  • there is a necessity of a cultural change in the direction of sustainable development.

8This is the background of this book which consists of two sections: section 1 treats of methodological questions, conceptual debates and frameworks around culture and sustainability, Section 2 presents epistemic topics and ethical dilemmas.

9This book has been facilitated by the Research Project UNESCO 08/20, supported by the UNESCO Chair for Sustainable Development and Environmental Education at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). It was also facilitated and supported by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS). To all these institutions and the contributors we–the editors–present the most sincere expressions of thanks for the publication of this volume. We all are grateful and appreciative for their work and ideas.

10Donostia-San Sebastián/Karlsruhe, June 2011


Professor Dr.; Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, Facultad de Filosofía y Ciencias de la Educación, Departamento de Filosofía/University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU), Faculty of Philosophy and Education Science, Department of Philosophy; Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain;

Professor Dr.; Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung und Systemanalyse (ITAS)/Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), Karlsruhe, Germany;

Dr.; Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung und Systemanalyse (ITAS) / Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) & KIT-Schwerpunkt Mensch und Technik / KIT Research Focus Human and Technology; Karlsruhe, Germany;


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