Sustainable development is defined as the process of meeting human development goals while sustaining the environment’s ability to provide the natural resources and services upon which society depends, now and in the future.
Sustainable development resolves the conflict between three different goals: environmental quality, social equity and economic prosperity. These are sometimes known as the ‘triple bottom line’ dimensions.
However, there are two significant issues with the concept of sustainable development.
The first relates to priorities. For sustainability to happen, the hierarchy of the triple bottom line goals must be clearly established in the order of sustainability. Without enduring environmental quality first there can be no social equity and without social equity there can be no economic prosperity for all. In the long term what is good for the environment must be good for society and what is good for society is good for the economy. If priority goes to economic factors over social or environmental factors the outcome is likely to be unsustainable.
Put simply: planet first, people second, production and profits third.
The second key issue of sustainable development relates to the definition of the word ‘development’. Amongst other things, development can mean ‘growth’ and/or it can mean ‘improvement’. Unfortunately the ideology of economic growth is ingrained in the economy as much as it is in people’s minds. The problem is that endless economic growth on a limited planet is impossible. However improvement (without growth) is unlimited.
Put simply, we don’t need a bigger economy, we need a better economy.
Read about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals here »