SOFT&GREEN Insights

Sustainability: some important milestones

Many milestones have marked the path towards sustainability. Rather than offering an in-depth account, to help readers navigate their way through such a complex history, Soft&Green has chosen a few dates in each decade, from the 1960s to the 1990s, to highlight some significant moments.

1962: the year American biologist Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, considered by many to be the first manifesto for the environment and a milestone in the history of ecology. Writer and publicist, Rachel was the first to publicly denounce the damage resulting from the indiscriminate use of chemical insecticides.

1968: the Club of Rome was founded in Italy, an informal organisation of scientists, economists, humanists and industrialists from ten different countries. The initiative was put forward by Aurelio Peccei, entrepreneur and manager of FIAT and Olivetti, with the aim of reflecting on some of the main environmental and social issues. The Club of Rome commissioned MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – to produce “The Limits to Growth” (LTG) report, better known as the “Meadows Report“. Published in 1972, the report pointed out that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely because of the limited availability of natural resources and the resulting imbalance in the planet’s natural ecosystems.

1970: the year in which Earth Day was celebrated in the United States, the first major environmental event. 20 million Americans mobilised to defend the planet. Thousands of colleges and universities organised protests against environmental decline and many groups that had fought against pollution, desertification and for the safeguarding of biodiversity understood that they shared common values.

1972: in Stockholm, 113 nations signed a Declaration containing 26 principles on the rights and responsibilities of mankind in relation to the environment. On 15th December of the same year, the General Assembly of the United Nations established the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), a Nairobi-based agency with coordinating functions for environmental action. Its mission was “to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations”.

Also in 1972, the first Green Party in history was founded in Australia. Established in Tasmania, it was named the “United Tasmania Group” (UTG).

1973: the first European environmental party was formed. Founded in the UK, it was first named the PEOPLE Party (then the Ecology Party and finally the Green Party).

1979: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened its first World Climate Conference in Geneva, which concluded with a series of recommendations on implementing policies needed for “the well-being of mankind”. Governments around the world were called upon to prevent potential anthropogenic climate change that could have negative repercussions on the well-being of mankind.

1987: the year the “Brundtland Report” was published. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), presented the report “Our Common Future”, which proposed several guidelines for sustainable development that are still valid today. One of the best-known definitions of sustainable development is a direct result of this report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

1992: the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development (also known as the Rio Conference or Earth Summit) was held from the 3rd to 14th June with the participation of 172 government representatives (including 108 Heads of State) and 2,400 representatives of non-governmental organisations. The concept of sustainability was beginning to take on a global dimension, although still mainly of interest to a small number of activists around the world.

At the end of the conference, five key documents were adopted, which would then form the action guidelines for the Member States:

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • The Forest Principles.
  • Agenda 21, a comprehensive and structured action plan for the sustainable development of the planet in the 21st century.
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in which the member states undertook to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system”.

    The Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on global warming, was adopted by 180 countries in 1997 and came into force in 2005, following years of negotiations.