many definitions of sustainable development, including this
landmark one which first appeared in 1987:
"Development that meets the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own
— from the World Commission on Environment and
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our
(Oxford: Oxford University Press,
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
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 company’s 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
country’s need for electricity results in acid rain that
damages another country's lakes and rivers?
How 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?
The Long and the Short of
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
social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to the
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
don’t 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 about development.