Understanding sustainable development in a social context

The definition of sustainability in the Brundtland report (UN World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) is widely cited as “sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Another common definition is the traditional diagram shown in the Figure above. The three-circle diagram of Social, Ecological and Economic Sustainability shows the connection between the three areas that require a degree of equilibrium. Sustainability and sustainable development can vary from a very negative situation to a very positive one.

Equating sustainability with limited sustainable development and increasing costs associated with social equality may not be sustainable. Kasun (1999) argues that sustainable development requires sacrificing human freedom, dignity and well-being.

Bailey (2002) suggests that preserving the environment, limiting economic growth, and eradicating poverty are incompatible with each other. He states that economic growth actually protects the environment as shown by the environmental quality of more developed countries.

Beckerman (1992) argues that economic growth for developing countries is the best strategy to reduce environmental degradation and resource management.