The Definition of Sustainable Development

More than one hundred definitions of sustainable development exist, but the most widely used one is from the World Commission on Environment and Development, presented in 1987.  It states that sustainable development is “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  Sustainable development promotes the idea that social, environmental, and economic progress are all attainable within the limits of our earth’s natural resources.  Sustainable development approaches everything in the world as being connected through space, time and quality of life.

In terms of the world being connected by space, consider the following: Pesticides sprayed in Chile have the potential to harm fish stocks off the coast of Japan.  The air pollution we emit in Los Angeles affect the quality of air in Asia.  On the flip side, clean air practices on one continent will positively impact air quality across the ocean.

The earth’s connection to time is demonstrated in how we, today, are either benefitting or suffering from the choices of our grandparents and other ancestors.   Their decisions about how to farm their land, for example, continue to impact the agricultural practices of today.  Looking to the future, the economic choices we make and policies we endorse today will be the ones affecting our children and grandchildren as adults.

Sustainable development constantly seeks to achieve social and economic progress in ways that will not exhaust the earth’s finite natural resources.  The needs of the world today are real and immediate, yet it’s necessary to develop ways to meet these needs that do not disregard the future.  The capacity of our ecosystem is not limitless, meaning that future generations may not be able to meet their needs the way we are able to now.

Some of the more common examples of sustainable development practices are:

  • Solar and wind energy.  Energy from these resources is limitless, meaning we have the ability to eliminate dependence on non-renewable power sources by harnessing power from renewable resources.
  • Sustainable construction.  Homes, offices and other structures that incorporate recycled and renewable resources will be more energy efficient and stand the test of time.
  • Crop rotation. Many farmers and gardeners are using this method as a chemical free way to reduce diseases in the soil and increase growth potential of their crops.
  • Water fixtures.  Water conservation is critical to sustainable development, and more and more products are available that use less water in the home, such as showers, toilets, dishwashers and laundry systems.

The world’s resources are finite, and growth that is unmanaged and unsustained will lead to increased poverty and decline of the environment.  We owe it to future generations to explore lifestyles and paths of development that effectively balance progress with awareness of its environmental impact.  In order to preserve the future, we must appreciate the interconnectedness between humans and nature at all levels.  Sustainable development practices can help us do this, and through education and building awareness, preserving the future is within everyone’s reach.