Sustainability: Meaning and Measurement with Application to Agriculture

Ms Mary Graham
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Sustainability refers to having the ability to meet present needs without impacting on future generations to meet their needs. It incorporates social, economic and environmental aspects, and as a measure of sustainability, a range of sustainability indicators at the economy, regional, and individual level, have been suggested. However, given the complex and multidisciplinary nature of the concept, an interdisciplinary approach is necessary.

Sustainability is not something that is easily measurable, and the aim of this paper is to present a conceptual framework for quantifying sustainability on the basis of social economic efficiency. According to neoclassical economic theory, economic activity will only be sustained by the private sector as long as it is profitable. However, private economic decisions do not always ensure long-term sustainability of environmental resources or production. The approach suggested here is to derive a measure of social economic efficiency as a measure of sustainability. For dairy farmers, increased productivity has been emphasized, while recognizing the need to reduce greenhouse emissions, pests and disease, nutrient run-off into the environment and degradation of the soil structure. By incorporating environmental and economic impacts, a fuller measure of efficiency, social economic efficiency, and sustainability of the farming practice can be developed.

Keywords: Sustainability, Efficiency, Social, Private and Environmental Impacts
Stream: Economic Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Sustainability

Ms Mary Graham

Lecturer in Economics, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University, Victoria

I have been a member of a teaching team which developed a unit, Economics of the Environment, to present to environmenal science students. Part of one topic in this unit introduces the concept of sustainability. My research interest also centre on the issue of sustainability. Currently being enrolled in a PhD, my research is centred on the measurement of the environmental impacts of dairy farming, a prominent activity around where I live. In my study I use productive efficiency theory to examine the performance of the farms from a private farmer's perspective and use a biophysical simulation model of dairy pasture to incorporate a measure of environmental impact to present an overall social efficiency measure of farm level performance. Sustainability incorporates economic, environmental and social aspects and my study shows how economic and environmental aspects can be linked to give some measure of sustainability.

Ref: S06P0304