Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The above definition of Sustainable Development was given by Brundtland Commission. Brundtland Commission was established by the United Nations in 1983 as World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) to address the growing concern “about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.” The commission report titled “Our Common Future” gave above definition of sustainability:
The report called for “a universal declaration” and “new charter” to set “new norms” to guide the transition to sustainable development. This was called “Earth Charter”. The Earth Charter was proposed during the preparatory process to Earth Summit — held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
Three Pillars of Sustainability – Environment, Economic, Social
The three pillars of sustainability are environment, economy, and society.
- Environmental sustainability maintains natural resources and ecosystems.
- Economic sustainability enables prosperity across generations without over-exploiting resources.
- Social sustainability promotes inclusive human wellbeing and equal opportunity.
The pillars are interdependent, so sustainable development requires balanced progress integrating environmental protection, economic growth, and social justice. For example, sustainable products not only avoid pollution but also ethically empower employees and communities.
Circular Economy Concept
The circular economy eliminates waste by circulating materials in closed loops of production, reuse and recycling.
- It replaces the unsustainable linear model of using resources only once then disposing.
- This model minimizes inputs, enables recycling, reduces resource depletion and prevents pollution.
By decoupling economic activity from finite resource consumption, the circular economy aims to benefit business through innovation, society via job creation, and the environment by eliminating waste. Overall, it brings increased sustainability across economic, social and environmental realms.
Sustainability Hierarchy – RRR
Three concepts work together as a sustainable hierarchy viz. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
- Reduce – Minimize resource and energy use, waste and pollution from the start of product design and consumption habits.
- Reuse – Circulate products in their original form to extend lifespan rather than disposing after one use.
- Recycle – Break down used materials to make new products instead of extraction of virgin resources. This closes material loops.
Reducing consumption and reusing goods come first to lower resource demands and waste pollution. Any remaining products get recycled to recover materials in circular flows rather than losing them by disposal. Applying reduce, reuse and recycle principles together promotes conservation and sustainability.
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Approach
The phrase “Cradle to Cradle” is derived from two components: “cradle” and “cradle,” as opposed to the traditional “cradle to grave.” In this context, a “cradle” represents the beginning of life or the starting point of a product’s lifecycle.
- The phrase suggests that products are created (born in a cradle), used, and then returned to a new cradle (rebirthed into another product or as a nutrient for the earth), rather than ending up in a “grave” (landfill or incineration, implying disposal and the end of utility).
- Cradle to cradle approach seeks to design of products and systems that mimic natural processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy and safe metabolisms. It seeks to create production techniques that are not just efficient but essentially waste free. Products should be designed from inception either to biodegrade harmlessly back to the soil or enable full recovery, high quality recycling and reuse of component materials indefinitely.
By eliminating the concept of waste, cradle to cradle design provides a model for the continuous flow of materials in cycles that can sustain economic growth without depletion of natural resources.
Biomimicry Innovation Inspired by Nature’s Solutions
Biomimicry focuses on innovating sustainable technologies, products, materials and systems by applying principles and mimicking strategies perfected in the natural world by evolution over billions of years. Examples are energy efficient buildings modelled after termite mounds and high speed trains emulating kingfisher beaks.
Industrial Ecology Approach
Industrial ecology seeks to shift industrial processes from linear (take, make, use, dispose) systems to circular ones like those found in nature to achieve sustainability. It takes a systems approach recognizing the interconnections among production processes, emissions, waste, resources, and energy use. Industrial ecology provides a framework for designing environmentally sound infrastructure and managing industrial activities so businesses can pursue commercial aims while minimizing environmental harm. Key strategies include dematerialization of production (using fewer resources), closing energy and material loops locally through cooperation among companies (one facility’s wastes become another’s raw materials), diversifying reuse pathways for byproducts, and utilizing renewable energy.
Green Chemistry Principles
Green chemistry aims to prevent pollution by innovatively designing harmless chemical substances, syntheses, processes and life cycles. Its principles target maximized atom economy, catalysed reactions, renewable inputs, energy efficiency, non-toxicity, and the holistic integration of chemicals and products to fully break down safely after use.
Sustainable Architecture and Green Building Design
Sustainable architecture incorporates renewable, recycled materials, energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction into building design and construction. Green buildings utilize ventilation, solar gain, shading, insulation and passive solar heating/cooling to minimize resource demand.
Onsite renewable energy systems like solar PV panels, small wind turbines or geothermal wells help achieve net zero energy use. Reusing existing buildings through refurbishments also aligns with sustainability.
Green buildings certifications like LEED and BREEAM rate energy performance and environmental design. Biophilic design further connects occupants more directly to nature through green roofs, living walls, daylight, plants and natural materials.
Sustainable Agriculture Practices
Sustainable agriculture meets current and future societal needs for food and textiles by provided sufficient yields over the long term in ways that lowers environmental impacts.
Key practices include:
- Organic farming which excludes synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, instead building healthy soils through compost, crop rotation and natural pest control.
- Permaculture designs diversified farms modeled on natural ecosystems.
- Agroforestry incorporates trees alongside grazing or crop cultivation, increasing biodiversity. Conservation tillage techniques like no-till, low-till, and strip-till farming reduce soil erosion.
- Precision agriculture carefully tailors water, fertilizer, pesticides dosing patch by patch via digital mapping for more resource efficiency.
Permaculture is the design of sustainable agricultural and living systems modeled on natural patterns. For example, permaculture mimics forests by using multiple productive layers like canopy trees, shrubs, and ground cover plants. It also utilizes natural features like gravity-fed water catchment and nutrient cycling from compost to reduce external inputs. The goal is to maximize productivity while regenerating the land over the long-term. Overall, permaculture creates resilient, ethical food and living systems integrated with natural landscapes that provide for human needs without exploitation.
Sustainable Forest Management
Sustainable forest management balances conserving forest biodiversity and ecosystems with extracting fair economic value by sanctioning limited logging, grazing or gathering of forest products based on comprehensive assessments ensuring regeneration and long-term health. Common guiding principles include conserving ecologically viable representative forest areas in perpetuity, protecting critical habitats for endangered species, preserving productivity for future generations by preventing overharvesting, maintaining forest contributions to global carbon and water cycles, and sustaining the livelihoods of local communities depending on forests.
Ecosystem-Based Management Approach
Ecosystem Based Management is an environmental protection strategy integrating sustainable economies and communities with conservation. It views ecosystems as interconnected wholes rather than separately managing individual issues in isolation.
This holistic science-based approach factors in ecological interdependencies, complexity and uncertainties across its planning process to balance diverse objectives of key stakeholders.
It seeks to align economic drivers like development, agriculture, fisheries and forestry with goals of conserving healthy, resilient ecosystems delivering valuable services like clean water, biodiversity habitat, carbon absorption, coastal protection and recreation.
Payments for Ecosystem Services
Payments for ecosystem services are incentives offered to farmers, forest owners, or other local stakeholders to voluntarily protect natural resources and forfeit more environmentally damaging land use.
Beneficiaries of water purification, flood control, soil conservation, aquifer recharge, biodiversity, carbon sequestration or scenic landscapes provide compensation for improved management practices and committing to conservation easements limiting future development.
These financial transfers aim to internalize positive externalities and advance sustainability goals on working lands rather than debating restrictive policies. Government subsidies, cap and trade schemes or private investments can fund the partnerships.
Ecological Footprint Concept
An ecological footprint measures total human demand on an ecosystem and compares it to ecosystem supply of renewable resources and services. This resource accounting tool calculates the biologically productive area needed to regenerate the renewable materials people use and absorb the carbon waste.
Footprints estimate overshoot beyond Earth’s capacity highlighting unsustainability. Governments, organizations and individuals can reduce footprints through energy conservation, renewable infrastructure, forest protections, wildlife stewardship, public transport use, efficient buildings, plant-based diets and population planning.
Carrying capacities inform policy for environmental limits to growth and setting sustainability targets.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Regulations
Extended Producer Responsibility policies make companies responsible for entire lifecycle of their products post-consumer use, requiring they finance and manage takeback, recycling and final disposal. This shifts accountability upstream to manufacturers, brand owners and first importers for collecting and sustainably reusing or recycling used mattresses, packaging, electronics, batteries etc. Companies must factor end-of-life costs into designs. Upstream focus incentivizes companies to design longer lasting, repairable and recyclable goods by internalizing waste management externalities and pressures for circular production. EPR rules enacted across municipalities, states and countries commit businesses to managing waste volumes they create.
Carbon Footprint and Other Sustainability Measurements
A carbon footprint measures total greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change that are directly and indirectly caused by an activity, entity or product. It supports accounting, reporting and reduction targets guiding transition to low carbon economies.
Similarly water and ecological footprints also monitor sustainability through production, consumption and waste measures. Lifecycle assessment and input-output models map complex upstream and downstream emissions across operations and supply chains beyond organizational boundaries.
Footprint indicators help set science-based targets, select suppliers, earn eco-certifications, inform consumer choice and design products/services optimizing circular resource flows to decarbonize economic output.
Sustainable Finance Aligning Investing With ESG Criteria
Sustainable finance refers to incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria into investment decision-making and the funding of sustainable development projects considered risky by mainstream investors.
By accounting for pollution, health, employee relations, board diversity, human rights etc., ethical investing helps redirect capital away from unsustainable activities destroying long-term value.
Quantifying sustainability metrics allows properly pricing ESG risks and opportunities. Sustainable loans, bonds, index funds and due diligence help meet climate targets signed under Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainable Supply Chain Management
Sustainable supply chain management coordinates interconnected businesses involved in sourcing, procurement, conversion, logistics and purchases to maximize efficiency and minimize waste to improve environmental, social and economic outcomes.
Greening vendors, materials selection, energy audits, packaging reduction, reverse logistics, carbon labelling, nearshoring, and blockchain traceability increase transparency across these complex global pipelines.
Aligning standards, codes of conduct, supplier diversity and audits ensures responsible upstream and downstream accountability to deliver products sustainably to customers and dispose ethically.
Sustainable tourism guidelines and regulations are emerging to address negative impacts from visitors on destinations, including economic leakage, infrastructure strain, cultural erosion, crowding, litter, wildlife disturbances etc. which degrade environments and communities longer-term.
Best practices counterbalance growth against preservation for long-term viability and local participation. Strategies encompass resource efficiency certifications for hotels and operators, eco taxes funding protected areas, education programs valuing heritage, community partnerships ensuring equitability of income, low impact transport options, enforcing codes limiting mass tourism and overdevelopment destroying the appeal and ecosystems supporting the industry.
Role of Fourth Industrial Revolution Innovations for Sustainability
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will harness increasingly powerful digital, biological, and physical innovations with potential to help and harm human and environmental wellbeing.
Emerging advances in renewable energy systems, data-driven urban infrastructure, platform economics enabling better consumption choices, crowd sourced monitoring safeguarding human rights and forests, regenerative production via biotech and robotics, intelligent citywide circular resource flows, democratized financing tools funding sustainability ventures, traceable sustainable supply chains using drones, sensors and blockchain ledgers, and breakthrough circular materials, energy sources and food system transformations could aid sustainable development. Risks abound absent ethics.