Our Insights

History of Sustainability

Posted at: 2017-11-27 11:09:40

As the IMF/World is hosting their annual meetings and some topics focusing on how to harness private sector support to global goals, we wanted to look back in time – back into the history all the way back to the concept of sustainability being born. We will highlight a brief history of the evolution of term sustainability and what we face today in our relationship with the wider society.


Some more significant change start in the year 1713, when the expression ‘sustainability’ was born as we know it today. Though it has expanded quite remarkably. Hans Carl von Carlowitz from Freiberg in Germany raised his voice in concern about deforestation and a plea for conservation of Saxony. Nachhaltigkeit in German translates to Sustainability, the term Carlowitz used to describe the rule that for every tree species, prescribed felling rates were defined – namely annual maximum quantities of wood that were permissible to cut in a section of forest – in his document Sylvicultura oeconomica. Significant because it started setting boundaries for what sustainability meant – it has of course expanded over the years multiple times.Fast forward to 1972 at the Stockholm conference, the term sustainable development was adapted to address new movement towards environmental perils. 

For the past ten years, global corporations are migrating to think beyond short-term profit maximisation to long-term value creation within the sustainability space. Companies are now thriving for purpose driven sustainability embedding into their core-strategies. And while in Tanzania this is still a relatively fresh term, companies preferring to adapt traditional CSR as a supporting function into the overall business structure, imminent change is in the horizon which will require local corporations to leapfrog into embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) into their investment portfolio.

While we as a consultancy often provide traditional support to our clients like reporting, impact measurement, strategy and policy scoping it is never far from our minds how we might use this to help our clients respond strategically to the changing nature of society and pro-actively become role model corporate citizens to thrive longer term. Understand your impacts and be pro-active in reducing the negative and increase the positive impacts, including that of your business and society.

Mesiya Mwangoka is a sustainability practitioner at Sustainability Practice: www.sustainabilitypractice.co.tz