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Sustainable development is a decision making approach and management tool to aid leaders in the wastewater sector to plan and implement change toward a balanced future with environmental, social, and economic vitality. Sustainable development emerged in response to the combined effect of affluence, population growth, and technology. Accelerating depletion of natural resources and wildlife, inequitable benefits accruing to different social strata, and the bottom-line need for solutions that make economic sense all drive the push for sustainability. Changing social values and increased scientific understanding fuel the drive.

As professionals in fields as diverse as manufacturing, architecture, and city planning discover ways to apply sustainability concepts, existing practices are modified and new, more sustainable practices emerge. To apply sustainable development to the wastewater sector, one must first understand how one's own organization and its charter fits within the larger social and environmental context now and in the future. This process involves identifying the diverse elements that either comprise the infrastructure or are affected by it, such as building materials, energy, site location, building systems, and solid wastes. Elements affected by it are water, human and biological communities, air quality, and transportation. The importance of the decision making process increases when one realizes the number of potentially conflicting elements. Whether applied to new or existing facilities, operations, or institutions, a sustainability approach can reveal options not otherwise seen.

We briefly review the fundamentals of sustainable development and The Natural Step, and examine sustainable development policies and planning. We then examine tools used in other professions and how we can apply them in the wastewater sector, in particular an environmental management system using ISO 14001 and The Natural Step, and a rating system for green buildings. Lastly, some indicators of sustainability are proposed for the wastewater sector.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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