Sustainable development

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In 1987, the United Nations released the Brundtland Report, which defines sustainable development as

development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It is clear that sustainable development does not focus solely on environmental issues.

According to Hasna Vancock, sustainability is a process which tells of a development of all aspects of human life affecting sustenance. It means resolving the conflict between the various competing goals, and involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity famously known as three dimensions (triple bottom line) with is the resultant vector being technology, hence it is a continually evolving process; the ‘journey’ (the process of achieving sustainability) is of course vitally important, but only as a means of getting to the destination (the desired future state). However,the ‘destination’ of sustainability is not a fixed place in the normal sense that we understand destination. Instead, it is a set of wishful characteristics of a future system.

Weak and strong sustainability

The concept has included notions of weak sustainability, strong sustainability and deep ecology. (to define).

Pillars of sustainable development

The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the "interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars" of: sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection. Companies have translated this in the "triple bottom line" notion: Planet, People, Profit, which is a controversial phrasing of the 3 pillars. This framework is also called the triple bottom line.

Many people, including indigenous people, have argued, that there are four pillars of sustainable development, the fourth being cultural. Researchers from Ecological economy often refer to Governance as being a fourth pillar of sustainable development.

Other representations of sustainability

The sustainability triangle

Traditionally the sustainability triangle proposes a balance of social, environmental and economic dimensions. But as economic dimensions cannot be understood as an end in themselves, or play only a role as secondary dimensions to fulfil the primary ones, they cannot be accepted as of equal importance or acting at the same level. They could be view as follows:


In the above diagram, the social and the environmental objectives (or needs) are joined by a third group of cultural objectives (or needs) which represent the historical aspects or ‘second nature’ of cultural heritage, traditions, languages, beliefs, arts, skills, settlements, lifestyle, laws, norms, etc. Instead of introducing economic objectives (or needs) in the triangle, economic activities have been put in the centre of the diagram as a set of means to achieve social, environmental and cultural objectives (or needs).


Birkhölzer, K. (2008): Local Economic Development and its Potential. Berlin:


  • UN Division for Sustainable Development DSD
  • Education for Sustainable Development UNESCO
  • The Northern Alliance for Sustainability ANPED
  • World Business Council on Sustainable Development WBCSD