The German term “Nachhaltigkeit” (sustainability) was first used in forest management by Hans Carl von Carlowitz, but the concept is still older.
This post was inspired by a facebook conversation some time ago on renewable and non-renewable resources:
A: Those who have an interest in continuing to make and sell products have a profit motive to replenish and renew their supply, e.g., timber companies plant more trees than anyone else.
Me: Timber is renewable. In fact, the term “sustainability” was coined by von Carlowitz in the context of forestry.
B: Is it true that a man named von Carlowitz was first to use the word “sustainability”? Sustainable: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. The concept of sustainability did not originate with forestry, nor does it end there. Sustainable techniques are applied to all natural resources, as well as behaviors…..
It did originate in forestry. Here is the story.
Erzgebirge (Saxony, Germany), early 18th century
Due to the increasing demands of the developing mining industry and the agglomeration of small cities, the original large and dense forests in this region in Saxony had disappeared. Trees had been clear-cut over the course of generations, old-growth forest had disappeared, and no effort had been made to regenerate the forests. The extensive grazing of cattle, pigs and goats, as well as subsistence agriculture, impeded forest recovery. The local mining chief, Hans Carl von Carlowitz had one major problem: the silver mines were far from depleted, but the mining industry needed wood (and a whole lot of it), and wood was becoming unavailable and unaffordable; it was in fact becoming so scarce that small industries were even at the brink of bankruptcy. As he would later state: In a few years, more trees will have been felled in Europe than have grown in several centuries (“Binnen wenig Jahren ist in Europa mehr Holtz abgetrieben worden, als in etzlichen seculis erwachsen”).