Concept of Sustainability and Sustainable Development

It was the global perception that the environmental conservation and economic development cannot be pursued together. With the onset of 1980s, the world started finding the middle path so that the long-term economic development may be pursued without harming the environment.

With this aim, the United Nations established World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), under the chairmanship of Geo Harlem Brundtland (former Prime Minister of Norway) in December 1983. Hence, this commission is commonly known as the Brundtland Commission. The task of the commission was to formulate “A global agenda for change”.

Brundtland Commission submitted its report entitled “Our Common Future” in 1987 which gave the concept of Sustainable Development to the world. Report defines Sustainable Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability (Latin: sustinere means to hold up) is a long-term idea that means making the entire world sustainable. However, sustainable development refers to pathways by which the goal of sustainability and sustainable world can be achieved.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): these are the seventeen goals set as the ‘2030 agenda for sustainable development’. It was adopted by the United Nations state members in 2015 as ‘a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and planet, now and into the future.’ All the developed and developing countries have been called to achieve the goals by global partnership.

Society, environment and economy, collectively considered as the three pillars of sustainable development. When the three pillars harmonically interact with each other, sustainability and sustainable development is achieved. A brief description of the three pillars is given below:

  • Environmental Sustainability: It means that we should consume the environmental goods and services in a sustainable manner. Mahatma Gandhi, once rightly said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not everyone’s greed”. The present rate of over-exploitation of natural resources exceeds manifolds the rate of replenishment of the same, which is causing environmental degradation at an exponential rate. Therefore, the natural resources should be utilized sustainably. Sustainable Development Goals 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water) and 15 (Life on Land) indicates environmental sustainability.
  • Social Sustainability: It defines a society having fair and equal opportunities for its population with gender equality, good health and education facilities and people’s participation in nation building. Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 16 (Peace, Justice and strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) indicates social sustainability.
  • Economic Sustainability: Economic sustainability means the equitable distribution of the resources. No one should be deprived of the basic needs to sustain a healthy life. Benefits should be earned from the resources but not at the cost of irreversible loss to the environment. Sustainable Development Goals 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 8 (Descent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) indicates economic sustainability.

The three pillars intersect each other giving the concept of bearable, equitable and viable globe, which collectively forms sustainable world.

  • Social Sustainability + Economic Sustainability = Equitable
  • Social Sustainability + Environmental Sustainability = Bearable
  • Economical Sustainability + Environmental Sustainability = Viable
  • Social Sustainability + Economic Sustainability + Environmental Sustainability = Sustainable Development

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