Sustainable development

Sustainable development

What is sustainable development?

Sustainability the property of being sustainable, the condition where human activity may be continued indefinitely without damaging the environment and where the needs of all peoples are met equally.
Sustainable development - that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, refers to the processes by which sustainability may be achieved.

27 principles to guide sustainable development around the world were adopted by 179 Governments at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. These are given in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Sustainable development embraces the main interdependent and indivisible areas of environmental protection, economic development and social development. Our Common Future - the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, suggested strategies for dealing with the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.

"Failures to manage the environment and to sustain development threaten to overwhelm all countries. Environment and development are not separate challenges; they are inexorably linked. Development cannot subsist upon a deteriorating environmental resource base; the environment cannot be protected when growth leaves out of account the costs of environmental destruction. These problems cannot be treated separately by fragmented institutions and policies. They are linked in a complex system of cause and effect." [ Our Common Future ]

The subsequent Earth Summit in 1992 produced Agenda 21 - a blueprint for sustainable development. Aimed at providing a high quality environment and healthy economy for all the peoples of the world, the document addresses:

Social and economic dimensions:
International cooperation to accelerate sustainable development in developing countries, poverty, consumption patterns, population, health, sustainable human settlements, integrating environment and development.

Conservation and management of resources for development:
atmosphere, land, forests, ecosystems, mountains, agriculture, biodiversity, oceans, fresh water resources, combating desertification and drought, environmentally sound management of biotechnology, toxic chemicals and hazardous and solid waste and sewage, safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste.

Strengthening the role of major groups:
women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, NGOs /partners for sustainable development, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, farmers, scientific and technological community.

Means of implementation:
finance, transfer of environmentally sound technology, cooperation and capacity-building, education and public awareness, science for sustainable development, international institutions, legal measures, information.

The resources below and on the Agenda 21 page, provide in depth information on the concept of sustainable development.


Databases, directories and other resources

  • Sense and Sustainability
    Sense and Sustainability is a podcast devoted to exploring perspectives on issues of sustainability. A collaborative effort with Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, this weekly podcast features guests from a range of disciplines including economics, law, political science, engineering, and the health and environmental sciences, as well as professionals from government, NGOs, and the private sector. The focus is on creating a forum for sharing ideas and perspectives for researchers, practitioners, and students interested in sustainable development or working in related fields.
  • The Sustainable Development Reference Link
    A site with the needs of public servants, academics and individuals in developing countries in mind. The site is designed to provide links to some of the most useful sites on the World Wide Web, including sites which provide software for sectoral management, economic models, data or references.
  • EnviroLink Library
    A large resource providing comprehensive, up-to-date environmental information and news.
  • Global System for Sustainable Development (GSSD)
    A cross-referenced index to resources and materials on sustainability - a project of the Global Accords Consortium for Sustainable Development housed at MIT.
  • World Wide Web Virtual Library: Sustainable Development
    A site packed with useful links including: organisations, projects and activities, electronic journals, libraries, references and documents, databases, directories.
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development
    The institute champions global sustainable development through innovation, research and relationships that span the entire world. It provides ongoing communication of its findings as it engages decision-makers in business, government, non-government organizations and other sectors..
  • The Environment Directory
    A huge exclusively environmental organization directory including sites from over 100 countries and covering many aspects of sustainable development and the environment.
  • ClientEarth
    ClientEarth is an organisation of activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet. They work in Europe and beyond, bringing law, science and policy to create pragmatic solutions to key environmental challenges. Their website contains many articles and legal briefings on issued such as Biodiversity, Climate and Energy, Climate and Forests, Health and Environment.

UK Government information

  • The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC)
    The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent adviser on sustainable development. It works towards achieving its aims in a number of ways, including: - providing informed, evidence-based advice to government on finding solutions to problems which help it to meet its commitment to sustainable development - developing the attitudes, skills and knowledge in government to make the best decisions for today and the future - holding government to account on progress towards sustainability.
    The site has a case studies database of green housing developments, sustainable transport, waste, procurement and clean energy projects.
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
    The UK Government department responsible for water, the environmental protection, Wildlife and Countryside, Sustainable development, etc. DEFRA