Sustainability is seen as a guiding principle for development, and means that all aspects of development (social, economic and environmental) should be able to be maintained for future generations. As these aspects are all interlinked, unsustainable development of any one aspect will affect the other aspects. So, for example, over-logging of a forest means not only will the forest be much degraded and diminished, but that the next generation will be unable to gain as much benefit from its goods and services (there will be very little more timber to harvest, and forest may be unable to protect the watershed).
Sustainable development is most commonly defined as that which:
"meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
The World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, U.K.
The Present Situation
Unfortunately, although ecosystems are vital for human life on earth, most have been seriously degraded or used unsustainably, and the distribution of species across the world is becoming more homogenous as the diversity of plants and animals is reduced and alien species become invasive. The degradation of ecosystems needs to be reversed through changes in policy and practice if they are to meet the coming decades' increasing demand for food, drinking water, timber and fibre.
Sustainability - a Theme in Policies
The sustainable use of biological diversity is a recurring theme in the CBD and one of its primary objectives (Articles 8 and 10), as well as in support of the Millennium Development Goals to alleviate poverty. Biodiversity contributes to poverty reduction by improving the nutrition and health of the poorest people in the world, generating incomes and stabilising ecosystems services (e.g. generation of water, cycling of nutrients, prevention of erosion) on which the people depend.
For wealthy nations, sustainable development also depends on the conservation and management of ecosystems which supply essential services and exploring ways to increase production (e.g. food, fibre and other minor crops) while using renewable and non-polluting sources of energy and other resources.
The Role of Botanic Gardens
Botanic gardens are addressing sustainability issues in several ways. This presentation on sustainability and botanic gardens (PPT, 3.6MB) outlines some of the issues to consider. The articles below illustrate the contribution of botanic gardens to:
Every botanic garden and associated person can contribute to sustainable development by making choices that support the sustainable use of our environmental resources, and the sustainable livelihoods and well-being of people. Every action counts! For example, when buying tea bags for a staff canteen, ask if organic and/or fairtrade products are made in a more sustainable and equitable way. When watering a garden, ask yourself if an well-designed irrigation system could reduce water costs - this may result in savings not only for the environment but also for the cost and effort required to provide the garden with water.
The sustainable use of biodiversity to benefit and safeguard human well-being
Many botanic gardens maintain extensive collections and undertake research on useful plants of actual or potential value for food, agriculture, forestry, horticulture, medicine, ecological purposes (habitat management, restoration and reintroduction, land reclamation, soil improvement and stabilisation), amenity (display, tourism, recreation) and many other purposes. Read about the use of minor crops (e.g. essential oils, fuel, forage).
The regulation of the unsustainable exploitation of biodiversity due to international trade
Botanic gardens are also active in monitoring domestic and international damaging or potentially unsustainable trade in plants and produces, regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).
In some countries, tourism and the associated development generated is a major threat to the maintenance of biological diversity. Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and some aspects have significant impacts on the physical and social environment.
The provision of models of sustainable practice
Botanic gardens have developed institutional policies on sustainable development to become models of sustainable practice and resource centres for the community. These policies cover horticulture (e.g. plant collection, composting and use of fertilizers, integrated pest management), low impact resource use (e.g. water , waste disposal, energy conservation, paper use and recycling) and equitable sources ( e.g. equipment and food stuffs produced from fair trade and sustainable sources) and engaging with the community