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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

EU and Sustainability: History of Sustainability


History of Sustainability

The concept of sustainability has been present in Europe for centuries, although not always explicitly defined as such. In medieval times, practices such as crop rotation and the use of natural fertilizers were common, contributing to the longevity of agricultural systems. The Industrial Revolution shifted towards more intensive and extractive forms of production, which led to environmental degradation and social inequality. It was not until the 20th century that sustainability began to emerge as a distinct concept, with the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and the establishment of the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth report. Today, Europe is at the forefront of sustainability efforts, with policies and initiatives focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, and protecting biodiversity.

Fun Facts: 

  • In the Middle Ages, hunting reserves and protected forests were established by European rulers in Venice
  • England was overwhelmingly deforested by the thirteenth century
  • France was once a country surrounded by lush woodland, but by the 18th century woodland accounted for only 16% of the land
  • Tree cutting in the forests of England, France, Germany leaves large tracts totally denuded by around 1550 in England and the 1600s in Europe, forcing a switch to coal.


Environmental History Resources - Environmental History Resources, is a comprehensive online hub dedicated to exploring the intersections of environmental issues and human history. It features a wide range of articles, resources, and links related to environmental history, from ancient civilizations to modern times.

Research Phrases

- Europe, Historical Environmental Conditions 

- History of Sustainability in Europe

- Ancient Sustainability efforts, Europe

- Environmental History, Europe

Databases for Further Research