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Chapter 6: Approaches for Measuring Sust... > IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABILITY - Pg. 103

Approaches for Measuring Sustainability analysis, there are usually three dimensions along which a system can be considered: time, space, and structure. Therefore, to devise efficient policies of sustainable development, the temporal, spatial, and structural dimensions of sustainability must all be taken into account. In this chapter, we review various models of sustainability assessment. Since there is no universally accepted definition and measuring technique of sustainability, these different models lead to different assessments. We also present a discussion of the sustainability indicators, ag- gregation tools, and data imputation techniques used in each approach and a brief comparison of their results. IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABILITY Sustainability looks to the future and in some way guarantees an acceptable social and ecological system for future generations. The concepts of sustainability and sustainable development have received much attention among policy-makers and scientists, as a result of the existence of limits to growth and the dramatic environmental changes we have witnessed in the last decades (Phillis & Kouikoglou, 2009); more specifically: · The consequences of a rapidly growing world population and finite resource sup- plies are not known precisely, but they will certainly worsen the pressure on the eco- systems, and the society in general. On the other hand, it is clear that environ- mental problems are now global in scale, such as species extinction, population ex- plosion, global warming, water shortages, exhaustion of fisheries, deforestation, etc. · It should be emphasized that all these dramatic changes occur in only a few years or just decades and so the time the society is given to adjust to these changes is very short. As already mentioned, sustainability inte- grates environmental, economic, and societal aspects. It is a concept discussed by politicians, environmentalists, biologists, sociologists, econ- omists, engineers, philosophers, and ordinary citizens who usually assign different meanings to the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development. In addition, although decision-making has be- come increasingly data-driven, the environmental domain has lagged in this regard. Sustainability is dominated by widespread information gaps and uncertainties, and as noted by Esty (2002) "environmental policy-making has often been based on generalized observations, best guesses, and "expert opinion" or, worse yet, rhetoric and emotion." Several initiatives, such as the Brundtland Report (UNEP, 1987), and Agenda 21--the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Develop- ment (UNEP, 1992), urge countries to develop indicators of sustainable development. Taking into account all the above, several ques- tions arise as to the consequences of our actions to our society and the environment (Phillis & Kouikoglou, 2009): How sustainable is our pres- ent course? Can we continue this course without destroying part or most of our environment and society? In addition, if we have to change course, how do we do it? Such questions justify the need for a definition and a reliable scheme for assess- ing sustainability. Although this chapter focuses on the sustainability of countries or geographic re- gions, the same sustainability concepts can be applied to businesses or organizations. Environmental management and corporate social responsibility systems are now adopted by numerous corporations. A large number of leading companies have made a commitment to become sustainable enterprises, and have launched proactive programs to improve the environmental and social performance of their products, processes, services, and facilities. 103