Sustainability frameworks – a brief history

 

The history of sustainability as a concept is as old as mankind itself. How to best survive and prosper given a certain access to necessary resources is a matter that concerns all spices on earth so the quest for sustainability is far from new. Sustainability as a modern concept is really no different but the number of matters contained in the concept is a completely different story. Still, we must not forget that altogether it is, and will remain, a matter of long-term survival and prosperity, the challenge is just that mankind now need to take a gigantic and holistic responsibility for every aspect of our society and living habitat. Our co-inhabitants on earth are simply not up to that challenge so we need to take care of them as well, i.e approximately 2 million species that have been described so far and many more millions that are yet to be cataloged.

It is probably fair to claim that mankind’s impact on our living habitat was, on a macro scale, limited until the industrial revolution. It was then humans began the consumption of natural resources at rates never seen before and it was also during the same period the use of fossil fuels took off steeply. However, some deterioration of our social responsibilities had begun far before the industrial revolution. Wars, empires, religious clashes and colonialism, just to name a few, are factors that have segregated people for thousands of years and the denying of access to essential living resources and fair legal systems have a history that is as old. Hence, when talking about sustainability, it is essential to recognize that all is not about the do’s and don’ts of carbon dioxide.

Although the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement periods saw some debates on sustainability related topics it was not really until the interwar period that the first more significant signals about environmental concerns began to unearth. The second world war, for obvious reasons, shifted focus from environmental matters and the immediately following post war period was used to rebuild societies and we saw unprecedented economic growth in many parts of the world. It is fair to say that environmentalism, and sustainability concerns in general, as we know them today did nor really take off until the mid-60ies but again, the social aspects were in the lead.

Already in 1948 (10 December), little more than three years after end of war, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Paris (General Assembly resolution 217 A) and as early as 1919 the ILO was founded and adopted the first two Conventions on women (No.3 on maternity protection, and No.4 on night work for women). Convention No.3 was several times revised – for the latest time in the year of 2000 (Convention No. 183). Today, the ILO Conventions cover a wide area of social and labour issues including basic human rights, minimum wages, industrial relations, employment policy, social dialogue, social security and other issues.

Over the years the number of organizations and concepts focusing on different parts of the sustainability spectrum has grown fast. The current financial market acronym for the subject, ESG, unearthed already 2005 (red more here) but it is not until recently the concept has become more widely recognized as the label for the developing financial market regulations for so called impact investment.

In 2015, what is likely to be the most important step towards coordination and homogeneity for all different sustainability ambitions was taken when, under the guidance and management of UNDP, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the SDG’s, were agreed upon. They form an umbrella framework with, on average, 10 subgoals under each, summing up to approximately 170 concrete goals for action.

For the Inzyon SCF the SDG’s, the convention of human rights and the ILO conventions form the key umbrella framework but the many other frameworks and organizations active on the sustainability arena add details, insights and clarifications in their respective fields of operations and it is Inzyon’s ambition to make all these frameworks come to life in one coordinated data model and also to, through this site, provide individuals interested in the universe of sustainability classifications a solid starting point for further research.