are many definitions of sustainable development, including
this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:
that meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
from the World Commission on Environment and Developments
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
what does this mean? What are the needs of the present?
Take a minute and jot down five to ten needs that you have
in your own life.
you listed any needs that conflict with one another? For
example, if you listed clean air to breathe, but also listed
a car for transportation, your needs might conflict. Which
would you choose, and how would you make your decision?
If within ourselves, we have conflicting needs, how much
is that multiplied when we look at a whole community, city,
country, world? For example, what happens when a companys
need for cheap labor conflicts with workers needs
for livable wages? Or when individual families needs
for firewood conflict with the need to prevent erosion and
conserve topsoil? Or when one countrys need for electricity
results in acid rain that damages another country's lakes
do we decide whose needs are met? Poor or rich people? Citizens
or immigrants? People living in cities or in the countryside?
People in one country or another?You or your neighbor? The
environment or the corporation? This generation or the next
generation? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs
should go first?
Long and the Short of It
concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting
the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social,
economic, and environmental objectives--or needs--when making
decisions today. Some of these needs are itemized around
the puzzle diagram.
social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to
of these objectives may seem to conflict with each other
in the short term. For example, industrial growth might
conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the
long term, responsible use of natural resources now will
help ensure that there are resources available for sustained
industrial growth far into the future.
the puzzle raises a number of difficult questions. For example,
can the long term economic objective of sustained agricultural
growth be met if the ecological objective of preserving
biodiversity is not? What happens to the environment in
the long term if a large number of people cannot afford
to meet their basic household needs today? If you did not
have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to
boil drinking water so that you and your children would
not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation?
Or, if you had to drive a long distance to get to work each
day, would you be willing to move or get a new job to avoid
polluting the air with your car exhaust? If we dont
balance our social, economic, and environmental objectives
in the short term, how can we expect to sustain our development
in the long term?
sustainable development dilemmas do you and your family
face in your everyday lives?
some of the social, economic, and environmental challenges
that are part of the sustainable development puzzle by working
through the Learning Modules
on this site. Delve into the issues that people around the
world strive to balance when making often difficult decisions