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What Is Sustainability?

Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations (Brundtland, Commission, 1987) as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The concept of sustainability evolved from the work of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) established in 1987 by the United Nations to examine worldwide problems of environmental deterioration and its relationship to hunger, poverty, public health and human rights violations and potential social unrest. The report concluded that dominant patterns of production and consumption were no longer sustainable and were depleting the planet’s finite resources and damaging life-supporting ecosystems.

According to the United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document the concept of sustainability involves three interdependent and mutually reinforcing themes: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability. These three pillars of sustainability are also embodied in The Earth Charter, in the following way:

Economic – the need to eradicate poverty and ensure that economic activities safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities and promote human development in and equitable and sustainable manner.

Social – the need to uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being.

Environmental – the need to protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concerns for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.


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