Marking World Earth Day today, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has released a report arguing that although sustainability has been on the international agenda for decades, “no bona fide improvements” for the environment or society have occurred.

The report, Re-framing Sustainable Development: A critical analysis, says that awareness of the carrying capacity of the planet has become increasingly widespread over the past 50 years, and has driven the need for a more sustainable approach to the way we live.

However, currently no noticeable improvements for the future of the environment or society have come to fruition, it says.

According to the report, the “openness to interpretation” of the concept has allowed it to fall victim to misuse, meaning that too often, sustainability is used to green wash.

CIWEM proposes that the current definition should be reframed with a more robust and testable definition of a sustainable action, by which projects or proposals can be considered.

It says that to be sustainable, an action must not lead, or contribute, to depletion of a finite resource or use of a resource exceeding its regeneration rate.

This does not suggest that existing efforts should stop, or that efforts to mainstream sustainability have been in vain, says CIWEM, it merely attempts to end mislabelling and begin a new way forward.

CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says: “Today and every day, we must remind ourselves of the collective responsibility we bear for the well-being of both present and future generations. Our planet cannot withstand unrestricted consumption of its natural resources, nor can it tolerate continued half-hearted attempts at sustainable development.

This publication maps a way forward which expands our vision of a sustainable future and integrates the use of resilience to help plan for and adapt to a changing world.”

“Society for the Environment’s Chief Executive Officer, Alex Galloway CVO, says: “CIWEM have produced a characteristically thoughtful report which asks us all to take a fresh look at sustainability, timescales, and the need for resilience. Everyone interested in our future choices should read it and think about its conclusions.”

Leigh Stringer

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