Sustainable Development  - A Definition

Most simply put by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development is said to ‘meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

For a community to be sustainable, it must adopt an approach that considers economic, environmental, and cultural resources, both in the short and long term.

Goodland and Ledec define sustainable development as, ‘a pattern of social and structural economic transformation (i.e. development) which optimises the economic and other societal benefits available in the present without jeopardising the likely potential for similar benefits in the future.’

Barbier emphasises the processes rather than the aims: ‘in general, the wider objective of sustainable development is to find the optimal level of interaction among three systems – the biological and resource system, the economic system and the social system, through a dynamic and adaptive process of trade-offs.’

Various sets of principles have also been developed to help guide efforts in sustainable development, often specialising in one area of sustainable development.  A general framework is laid out in ‘The Precautionary Principle’, and ‘The Natural Step Principles’.  Buildings, cities and products are considered in ‘The Hanover Principles’, disaster prone communities in ‘The Wingspread Principles’, and several topics including building design, site design and energy management are covered by ‘The National Park Service’s Principles for Sustainable Design’. 


Elliot, Jennifer (1994), ‘An Introduction to Sustainable Development’, Routledge

Newson, Malcolm (1995), ‘Managing the Human Impact on the Natural Environment – Patterns and Processes’, John Wiley & Sons

Waugh, David (2000), ‘Geography – An Integrated Approach’, Nelson Thornes

Law, Norman and Smith, David (1993), ‘Problem-Solving Geography’, Stanley Thornes

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Benedict Lumley