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THE LANGUAGE OF sustainability emerged during the 1970s, though the concept was introduced as sustainable development in 1980 in the World Conservation Strategy and was popularized in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission after its Norwegian chairperson Gro Harlem Brundtland). Today there are numerous definitions of sustainability, but the important question to ask is, What is to be sustained? Is it the planet, particular environments, individual species, current lifestyles, certain rates of economic growth, a specific level of profit?

Sustainability, especially as constructed in mainstream definitions of sustainable development, is very similar to the concept of conservation espoused by the American forester, Gifford Pinchot, in the late 19th century. Conservation emphasized using natural resources wisely, not depleting ...

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