While Agenda 21 was established by the United Nations Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and elaborated in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the fundamental idea of sustainability derived much earlier. The term “sustainability” (German translation Nachhaltigkeit) derived from the concept of economic forestry in the European Middle Ages.
Hans Carl von Carlowitz was born in 1645 in Chemnitz, Saxonia/Germany. Carlowitz lived during the time of the Thirty Years' War and was confronted with a growing need for steel production and hence enormous wood consumption in his country. Reforestation could not keep pace with woodcutting, resulting in economic shortages of wood supply and disastrous environmental effects. Forests were cut down rapidly but needed decades for recovery and subsequent economic usability. On various travels, Carlowitz soon became aware that the shortage of wood was a prominent problem all over Europe in the 17th century. Within a few years, more wood was cut than had grown during several centuries.
One year before he died, Carlowitz published the book Sylvicultura Oeconomica (The Economics of Forestry). He outlined the triad principles of sustainability (ecology, economy, and social aspects) and, like the modern ecological economists mentioned in this chapter, subordinated human economic activity to natural restraints. Carlowitz believed that trade and commerce had to serve the society and treat nature in a careful and considerate way. Also, he saw economic activity as responsible for future generations. 1
Carlowitz criticized the short-term mentality of forest owners who converted their properties into farm-land, thus harvesting every year instead of having to wait for decades to grow trees. According to Carlowitz, the profit from cutting