Definition and Basics:
Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” according to the United Nations (UN). Through sustainable development, humans can improve their quality of life while protecting Earth’s resources for the benefit of future generations.

The achievement of sustainable development requires the integration of its economic, environmental and social components at all levels. This is facilitated by continuous dialogue and action in global partnership, focusing on key sustainable development issues: social and economic, natural resource management, stakeholders, means of implementation and regional dimensions.

Brundtland Report
The concept of sustainable development is based on limiting the use of renewable resources to the level at which the environment can continue to supply them indefinitely. The amount of timber cut down in a forest or the number of fish removed from a body of water can be controlled at a level that does not reduce future supplies. The UN’s “sustainable development” was defined in this 1987 Brundtland Report, named for the World Commission on Environment and Development’s chair, Gro Harlem Bruntland, former Prime Minister of Norway. Titled Our Common Future, the Bruntland Report was a landmark in recognizing sustainable development as a combination of environmental and economic elements. The Bruntland Report argued that sustainable development had to recognize the importance of economic and growth while conserving natural resources. Environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity are linked because economic development aimed at reducing poverty can at the same time threaten the environment. Plans to protect the environment would fail unless LDC’s could promote economic growth in order to meet basic needs of employment, food, energy, water, and sanitation.


One of the main activities of the Division for Sustainable Development has been supporting the elaboration of a 10-year framework of programmers on sustainable consumption and production, as called for by the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. The goals are to Goals to assist countries in their efforts to green their economies, to help corporations develop greener business models, and to encourage consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. To reach these goals the UN division for sustainable development analyses current trends, policy options and practical measures that foster the transition to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption by governments, business and consumers, organizes multi-stakeholder international meetings to share best practices and promote partnerships, and supports capacity building efforts for the application of policy toolkits on sustainable consumption and production.
The Bruntland Report was as optimistic that environmental protection could be protection could be promoted at the same time as economic growth and social equity. By gradually changing development practices, economic growth, and social equity can be made compatible with protecting the environment and conserving resources. Planning for development involves consideration of many more environmental and social issues today that was the case in the past.

-on one side argue that resources will change and be used differently over time so there is no need to worry about depletion
-on another side argue that there is no way to grow sustainably because we are at are limit for using productive land
-some also state that on a planet where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the natural resources, a sustainable development cannot be possible for this 20%
-some criticize the term sustainable development, stating that the term is too vague.
-some criticize it and say it will hurt the local economies
-all of them agree that we need to have more international cooperation to truly solve the problem (critics and proponents)

The term sustainability means
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions

Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism.

Environmental management and sustainability

  • Atmosphere: For issues like acid rain global warming, smog, depletion of the ozone layer and air pollution of all sorts

  • Water: Increasing urbanization pollutes clean water supplies and much of the world still does not have access to clean, safe water. Greater emphasis is now being placed on the improved management of water and how global warming impacts ocean currents.

  • Land use: Loss of biodiversity stems largely from the habitat loss and fragmentation produced by the human appropriation of land for development, forestry and agriculture (deforestation)

Food is essential to life and feeding more than six billion human bodies takes a heavy toll on the Earth’s resources. This begins with the appropriation of about 38% of the Earth’s land surface and about 20% of its net primary productivity. Added to this are the resource-hungry activities of industrial agribusiness – everything from the crop need for irrigation water, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to the resource costs of food packaging, transport (now a major part of global trade) and retail. Environmental problems associated with industrial agriculture and agribusiness are now being addressed through such movements as sustainable agriculture, organic farming and more sustainable business practices.

Note: with some fish species, there are problems with overfishing and depletion of fish as a resource. Sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems

  • Human Consumption: The more we consume, the more we use resources, ship materials using gas to do it and the more we likely throw out materials and create waste.

  • Energy: Most energy is gotten through fossil fuels like coal and oil. In 2007 climate scientists of the IPCC concluded that there was at least a 90% probability that atmospheric increase in CO2 was human-induced, mostly as a result of fossil fuel emissions but, to a lesser extent from changes in land use. Stabilizing the world’s climate will require high-income countries to reduce their emissions by 60–90% over 2006 levels by 2050. Otherwise global warming will cause climate change.