Sustainable Development - What Is It Exactly?

Sustainable Development – What Is It Exactly?

Sustainability and Sustainable Development, is there a difference? Let’s know them and a little history as well.

We as humans have evolved a lot. So does our society. We have made a lot of scientific discoveries and technological advancements. We made incredible strides in health care, economic prosperity, and, in general, quality of life. All of this was possible due to the abundance of natural resources. We harnessed as many natural resources as possible to achieve this rapid success. But this came at a cost. In the quest for development, we ignored nature and ended up exploiting it rather than mindful use.

This blind race for economic prosperity made a huge dent in the ecological equilibrium of the earth. The harmonious balance that should be between human beings and the rest of the planet is off the tilt as of now. As a result, we are on the cusp of great danger due to environmental pollution and global warming. Now, all we can do is try to correct our mistakes and bring back the balance. And to do so, we have come up with a lot of things. One such is the concept of sustainable development.

What is Sustainability?

The simplest definition is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate; the act of maintaining something for a long time. In the context of planet earth and humanity, it is about humanity’s ability to maintain natural resources and co-exist with planet earth in such a way that it doesn’t harm the planet. Sustainability is about fulfilling the needs of the current generation of people without compromising and jeopardizing the needs of future generations. Thus, it is about striking a balance between human needs and judicious use of nature.

But that’s just one dimension of Sustainability. A more holistic idea of sustainability includes different aspects of the human condition as well as planet earth. There are three key pillars of Sustainability;

  1. Economic viability – Whatever we do, the actions we take, and the activities we partake in should be economically viable. It shouldn’t be about just making a profit or sustaining the environment. A happy balance that may lean in favour of the environment should be the right approach.
  2. Environmental protection – The crux of all human efforts should be focused on preserving nature and natural resources. Precedence should be given to the environment whenever it is possible to prioritize conservation. This also doesn’t mean that it would come at the cost of social development or economical burden.
  3. Social Equity – It means that there should be fairness and impartiality. All people should be considered equal. The responsibilities and sacrifices should be equally shared amongst all, in accordance with the anthropological disadvantages and contemporary advantages.

This still is a basic view of sustainability. It has a rather complex meaning when interconnected with various different aspects of society such as technical feasibility, political legitimacy, institutional capacity, etc. Thus, Contrary to popular belief, Sustainability and its meaning is constantly evolving with our needs and the complexity of human society.

What is Sustainable Development?

The term was coined by the United Nations world commission on Environment and Development. Sustainable development refers to the process of improving long-term economic well-being and quality of life without compromising the needs of future generations. One thing to understand is natural resources are not limitless. There is only so much earth can replenish in a given time. If our use outpaces that rate of replenishment, it creates a situation where we will consume and exhaust the resources. This creates further imbalances so grave that our existence will be in danger.

Rightly so, Sustainable Development talks about efficient and responsible use of resources in such a way that optimizes quality of life while preserving nature or using just enough which can be replenished by mother nature in due time. The three pillars of Sustainable Development are the same as the pillars of Sustainability. The difference is Sustainability is the long-term goal while Sustainable development is the process and methods to achieve it. The pillars are People, Planet, and Profit. These are the same pillars as Sustainability; Society, Environment, and Economy.

History of Sustainable Development

In the year 1992, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first Human Environment Conference held in Stockholm, a United Nations conference was held in Rio de Janeiro. It was famously called Earth Summit or Rio Summit. The Human Environment conference was the world’s first Conference to make Environment a major issue. It discussed the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water, and oceans, and the well-being of people around the world.

The UN, in 1987, published a report namely, Our Common Future. It is also famously known as the Brundtland Report. The 1972 conference touched on the concept of Sustainable Development but never spelt it explicitly. The term was popularized 15 years later in the Brundtland Report which included the now famous and classic definition of Sustainable Development; “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It was, however, not before the Earth summit that the world leaders recognized Sustainable Development as the major challenge it still remains to this day.

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