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Countless people and organisations have been wrestling with the practical application of sustainability and sustainable development. Yet there is no rigorous and unequivocal template that can be followed for management because the meaning of the key concepts of sustainability and development in particular haven’t been properly identified. Although the fundamental meaning of the word sustainability is continuance, the concept has its controversies especially when it drifts into the ‘abstract’ and even becomes confused with sustainable development. For our purposes it is the ability of development and of its associated processing activities to continue that is being managed. For management effectiveness, a system framework is necessary but more importantly what goes into that system has to be rigorously and unambiguously defined. In our case, the mechanisms describing the practicalities that govern the sustainability of development have been clearly identified in this paper and called by name. The concept of development needs clarification, while the accepted popular ‘three pillar’ depiction of sustainable development is also fundamentally flawed when compared with the form of words of the ’Brundtland‘ definition. This well-known ‘Venn representation’ implies a type of ‘balance’ or ‘synergy’ at the heart of sustainability management. In fact, because of the fundamentally unsustainable nature of current development processes, the ‘balance’ turns into a trade-off amongst the three sustainability players. For real sustainable development there can be no such trade-off. Once the misunderstandings are clarified the true basics of sustainability and sustainable development are fed into a standard ISO14001 iteration loop for management to commence.
A practical application of sustainable development (SD) is unfeasible without being guided by a logical framework and suitable mechanism. Popular conceptions of SD are various, and non-rigorous, so that they do not offer a viable point of departure for any practical programme, that Engineers could follow. There is an urgent need to return to the basis provided by the form of words of the Our Common Future (OCF) definition of SD to rediscover the true meaning of the concept. In OCF the context for the SD definition is set. The key ideas of environment and development are refocused giving these words a specific meaning framing the Brundtland definition which consequently should never be quoted out of context. SD is a non-negotiable unambiguous principle, a restatement of the ‘Hicksian’ principle of income that is the foundation of sound and wise household management. This paper proposes a mechanism for practical SD that allows the ordering of the popular vocabulary of the subject and leads to useful insights into the nature of SD itself not just for Engineers but for sustainability practitioners in all walks of life.
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