Beyond Neutral

Greenhouse Solutions


Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD)

Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) is an uniquely Australian approach to sustainable development.  The term came about in the late 1980s in an attempt to ensure that the new concept of sustainable development would not be dominated by economic thought alone.  This lead to acknowledging that economic and social processes, both of which are an integral parts of sustainable development, are reliant on ecological services.

There is no formal definition of ESD and the term is often used interchangeably with sustainable development.  Australia’s National Strategy for Ecological Sustainable Development (1992), defines ESD as:

‘using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased’

The key to ESD is integrating environmental considerations into the decision making process using the following four principles:

  • The Precautionary Principle – pre-damage control as opposed to post damage control.  In relation to ESD and climate change, the precautionary principle recognises that scientific uncertainty exists when assessing future dangerous environmental impacts but this is not reason enough for inaction.  As such, the precautionary principle requires decision makers to intervene when scientific information indicates adverse environmental impacts to prevent/limit possible impacts.
  • Inter-generational Equality – the current generation of decision makers should maintain and/or enhance current environmental health, diversity and productivity for the use of future generations.  This requires long term planning and consideration within which present institutional arrangements have an influence on decisions.
  • Intra-generational Equality – this principle addresses inequality across communities and regions and the associated environment impacts.  It recognises that both poverty and affluence have negative affects on the environment and that it is often poorer communities and societies who disproportionately bear the cost of environmental impacts such as climate change.  It also recognises that inequalities effect the ability to influence decision making processes.
  • Conservation of Biological Diversity and Ecological Integrity – should be fundamental to the decision-making process.
  • Internalisation of Environmental Costs – this principles requires a real economic price be attached to environmental services.  The idea behind this principle is that those things that have typically been considered external to a project, such as environmental degradation or climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, are the market’s failure to put an economic value on ecological services.