4. Conclusion

Environmental ethics is a very broad topic and refers in the context of sustainability considerations for example to the permanent human survival on earth and issues such as intergenerational equity. Despite its diversity, sustainability is always still in the stage of development. This can be seen in the differentiation of its contents, and also in the development of the concept of sustainability itself.

There are basically two approaches which have to be distinguished:

1. the optimistic view of "weak" sustainability, by which for almost all functions of natural capital replacement by other types of capital should be possible. This replacement or substitution processes should be permitted if the existing capital will be wholy preserved in this way;

2. the "pessimistic" or „strong“ sustainability approach critizises such substitutability and does not see it as given. This concept of "strong" sustainability argues that intergenerational justice requires that "the stocks of different types of capital remain independent of each other in biological or physical standards“. This is especially true for natural capital.

The more plausible concept of strong sustainability has developed three management rules for practical implementation as a guide to action that will improve the natural capital stock permanently. These management rules are both macro and micro applicable as well as at the political and social level. These management rules are that the degradation rate for renewable natural resources should not exceed their regeneration rate; that substances into an environment can be controlled permitted only to the extent that they correspond to its assimilation ability and can cause any danger of its functions (critical loads, critical levels) and that because of the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy law, any use of non-renewable resources reduces, in the final analysis, the available stock. This means altogether: „Non-renewable resources should be used only in the extent to which a physically and functionally equivalent replacement is assured in the form of renewable resources or a higher productivity of natural resources in their use."

The question arises how this demanding concept will be transformed into practise. Therefore, on the national level of Germany the „national sustainability strategy“ as the most important strategy has been developed among others. The German sustainability strategy was adopted in 2002. Since it determines the course for sustainable development in Germany. It bears the title "Perspectives for Germany" and includes specific tasks and objectives. The guidelines direct the way, the direction in which Germany must move in order to become more sustainable. They cover the spectrum of "intergenerational justice - Quality of life - social cohesion and international responsibility".

But to transform this spectrum into reality also some management rules are necessary. These are the indicators and targets. Indicators show where we are on the path to sustainable development. Goals make the need for action clear and are important for a successful control. A successful management includes in particular the review of development based on defined criteria and metrics. Therefore, the sustainability strategy contains 21 topics total of 38 indicators. The number of key indicators was deliberately kept small: rapidly with a few figures to give an overview of important developments. For a complete picture, it is important to look at the indicators not in isolation but in the entire system.

The indicators are linked with concrete and - where appropriate and possible - quantified targets. Thus that they are relevant for political action. The sustainability strategy involves balancing conflicting goals and to bring as much as possible consistent with each other. For example, economic growth is compatible with climate protection goals if it is accompanied by efficiency improvements or structural changes.

In 2012 the federal government revised some indicators and associated targets. Decisive criteria were continuity and transparency. In this framework, individual inclusion of new objectives was created, including long-term objectives with the perspective of 2050 in the energy / climate. Some indicators have been revised to increase inter alia to their significance or to bring them with agreed at EU level objectives. To map the area of fiscal sustainability more, also two new sub-indicators were introduced.

Another new instrument is the reporting system and the dialog for sustainability. Sustainability is a guiding principle for the policy of the Federal Government. But not only the state and politics, each and every individual is required to work for this goal. Sustainable development can not be imposed by the state. Only when all players in the economy and society and citizens make the theme to their cause, sustainable development will succeed.

The Comprehensive Dialogue on Sustainability was launched in autumn 2010. In the first phase, from September to November 2010, the federal government presented its proposals for the thematic focus of the new progress report for discussion: "sustainable management" and "water". In a second phase of dialogue from June to September 2011, the draft of the federal government could be discussed for the 2012 Progress Report.

On 15 February 2012, the Federal Government adopted the latest progress report on the National Sustainability Strategy. Sustainability has become a guiding principle of human action in all sectors of society in importance. This is reflected in the indicators as in the political structures.

Finally, the critical question arises whether the above-mentioned objectives of sustainable resource use have been achieved so far in any direction. This can be relatively "easy" measured by the two criteria, whether

1.         the "ecological footprint" has been reduced and whether

2.         for each person quality of life has increased. Thus, in 2012 on August 22, the entire stock of natural resources has been consumed, which has been produced on Earth throughout 2012. This means that from that date the generated amounts of waste and emissions could not be absorbed (so called Earth Overshoot Day). This date occurs every year a little earlier. "After four decades of Planet Earth Politics controls the planet still steers to the collapse the Club of Rome predicted for the middle of the 21st century."

Also, to improve the quality of life as a promise of the good life for all, it has not become better. Apart from the increase in the quantitative growth (gross domestic product) and the associated accumulation of goods, no reliable quality of life for everyone is generally considered obviously occurred, as it is the goal of a sustainable lifestyle and economy. For this argument the well-known studies of the WHO and the FAO from all the past years and decades can be used as evidence. This critical interim conclusion nevertheless should not devalue the variety of measures, which were part of the policy at local, regional, national and international level, or of companies and have been since enforced; nor the measures in consumptive area. On the contrary: Without it, the sustainability balance sheet would look absolutely devastating.