Eternal forest, sustainable use

The making of the term “Nachhaltig” in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century German forestry

Authored by: Ulrich Grober

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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The idea of sustainability is not a brainchild of the modern environmental movement. It has deep roots in many cultures of the world and is, in fact, a world cultural heritage. As far as the modern vocabulary, in which we conceptualize this idea, is concerned, a distinct blueprint can be found in the professional language of German forestry. After the first appearance of the term “nachhaltende Nutzung” (sustainable use 1 ) in print in 1713, “Nachhaltigkeit” gradually became the guideline—and indeed the holy grail—of German forestry. Translated as “sustained forest yield“ or “rendement soutenu des forêts” it turned into a household word of international forestry. This paper traces the roots of the concept back to the age of early European Enlightenment. In that era, German cameralists, driven by the fear of an imminent timber shortage and inspired by new approaches and best practices in England, France, other European and non-European countries, coined the term and began to manage their territories’ woodlands “nachhaltig” in order to hand them along undiminished and as intact as possible to future generations.

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