Sustainable development is a notion that first appeared in 1987 in the Brundtland report, Our Common Future. The report was produced by the Brundtland Commission, convened by the UN in 1983 and was welcomed by the UN's General Assembly in Resolution 42/187.
The report defines the concept as: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It contains within it two key concepts:
• The concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
• The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."
Sustainable development suggests that people view the world as a system of space and time. This way they will come to realize that what happens in one part of the world may affect all other parts of it and what happened years ago may have its results at present or even in the more distant future. It basically aims at meeting all human needs by posing the least possible threat to the environment.
The UN has set a number of goals to achieve through sustainable development. These include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and empowering women, reduction of child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and development of global partnership for development.
Three primary aspects of sustainability have been defined as environmental, economic and social sustainability. Environmental sustainability means that all natural resources should be used at such a rate that they are given the chance to replenish again. In most cases, this means that reusable energy resources are developed, exploited and used as a substitute for traditional environment damaging energy sources. If sources are used at the same rate with which they renew themselves, environmental equilibrium is achieved. In the case of using energy more slowly than the sources can replenish, environmental sustainability is present. Renewable sources of energy include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and waterpower.
The connection to the second aspect of sustainable development, economic sustainability, is obvious as they are interdependent and should complement each other. Of course, economic sustainability is closely related to finance. It aims at ensuring long-term investment and in order to achieve its goal, it has to be able to rely on natural and energy resources that will remain available in future. In an attempt to achieve sustainability, companies will have to choose raw materials that are more environmentally friendly and to devise new strategies for disposal that would not interfere with the local ecosystems. According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), countries like Japan, Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and United States have already reduced the annual water consumption in 2007, compared to the figures in 2000.
The third aspect is social, or sociopolitical, sustainability. It deals with human and labor rights, equal opportunities and encouraging community and diversity. This aspect of sustainability actually closes the cycle of sustainability. In recent years the notion of sustainability is a core concept for business companies, education institutions and both governmental and non-governmental organizations. There has been serious criticism and opposition to this theory. In article in The Freeman (1998) Jerry Taylor, Director of Natural Resource Studies at the Cato Institute argued that if sustainability generally indicated meeting needs, then we are inherently referring to consumerism and wealth. Taylor claims that there could not be universal rules and definitions to "natural resources", as they change and vary in time, location and demand. An example given by Taylor is petroleum, which was only marginally used a century ago, but has gone on to be one of the most important resources worldwide. It is impossible to know what the needs of future generation might be.
Another critical view on the matter comes from John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). He maintains that the consequences of such actions are unknown and therefore potentially dangerous. A movement known as De-growth also finds fault with sustainable development. De-growth followers believe in anti-consumerism, anti-capitalist and environmentalist ideas. Their primary concern is that sustainability ultimately aims at economic growth, which so far has proved incompatible with nature preservation.