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What is sustainable development anyway? Pt. I

by mel starrs on November 7, 2007

in Uncategorized

Here’s the beginnings of what was going to be a much longer article. In the spirit of clearing out my drafts box on the blog I thought I’d bite the bullet and call it part one of a series to be finished in the future.

Sustainable Development

Is anyone else tired of going to presentations and seminars and having poor old Gro Harlem Brundtland’s definition of sustainable development thrust upon us – yet again? Or is it just me? The definition originates from the 1987 Brundtland Report, “Our Common Future“, and is widely used by the government in the UK:

‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

This definition neatly packages together what Dyllick and Hockerts call the three challenges facing humanity: economic growth, social equity and the carrying capacity of natural systems. The premise of sustainable development is that these three types of capital; social, economic and natural; must all be considered in relation to each other – the ‘triple bottom line’.

Back in January 2007 Amy Stodghill posted a great history of sustainable development definitions here. The long definition from the Brudtland report is:

The pursuit of sustainable development requires:

· A political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision making

· An economic system that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and sustained basis

· A social system that provides for solutions for the tensions arising from disharmonious development

· A production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development

· A technological system that can search continuously for new solutions

· An international system that fosters sustainable patterns of trade and finance

· An administrative system that is flexible and has the capacity for self correction”

(p.74 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. “Our Common Future” 4 August 1987. United Nations. A/42/427)

In practice, despite 20 years of having the Brundtland definition, the aspect most likely to be concentrated on by both individuals and companies is eco-efficiency.

Six criteria of corporate sustainability

The model above was developed by Dyllick and Hockerts. In part II, I intend to look at this in a little more detail (no promises as to a time scale on that I’m afraid…). In the meantime, feel free to use this a launching pad for you to research the issue in more detail yourself.