Sustainable development is a method of improving or maintaining a standard of living allowing for economic stability or growth, using all resources in a way that accounts for its value economically, socially, and environmentally, simultaneously allowing for equity across borders and between generations. This methodology strictly seeks the best efficiency in improving standards, noting that the same specific methods are not best for each individual case, alternatives must be considered.
This definition tries to account for the various challenges of sustainable development, including aspects of the “triple bottom line.” While it does not account for limiting population, population will become implicit in calculating values and risks regardless of inclusion in the definition. I believe that equity has to be accounted for within the definition. Adil Najam noted that, when looking at IPCC planning and writing on climate change, it is no longer fair to touch on equity, it has to be a major component of the discussion if the developing world is expected to take part in any plan which will have environmental impacts. (Climate Policy, v3 Supplement 1,Nov 2003). It is also crucial to account for alternatives because the best approach in one area and under a certain government with a specific culture is not necessarily going to be the best approach someplace else. This is building off the simplicity of Helmut Breitmeier’s 1995 definition, and adding essential elements not included in his definition. (definition A-50)
I believe that, barring any great political changes, sustainable development is going to remain a sort of unattainable myth for at least the next twenty years, if not longer. I do not think that business, government, or the human population as a whole is ready for sustainable development, nor the kinds of changes it will entail. It sounds nice on paper and in news broadcasts, but it is too far away. I say this from an American perspective, but also as someone who has lived abroad for several years.
Professor Jalal outlined eight principles needed in order to approach sustainable development: poverty reduction, population planning, pollution control, participation, preventing policy and market failures, prevalence of good governance, prevention of disasters, and partnership building. (Introduction to Sustainable Development, 2006) While some of these items indicate possibilities for action on the personal level, for the most part it will take major shifts on the country and international level, as well as on the cultural level in order to actualize change. While these principles are not realized globally, it is possible to run programs that encourage sustainability on the grassroots level, but this is not the same as global sustainability, and should not be mistaken for success in the movement towards sustainable development.
Poverty reduction is very difficult. While people in the first world are willing to give to charity for aid in the poorest parts of the world, that is not helping meet their needs on an ongoing basis. These are not people who are poor when there is a natural disaster, these are people who are poor every day of the year. This is added to the idea in many places, especially the US, that it is necessary to work for your own life improvement. Granted, a person on the street will not admit to this, but if you ask them if they would take a pay cut in order to assure a better global distribution of wealth then you would have another answer. Beliefs about money and what a person “deserves” has to change in order to take the edge off of the poverty problem.
Poverty, pollution, and population are the biggest limits to sustainable development. While creative approaches in acceptable materials in European electronics is changing the way computers are made, it is far to easy in the current scenario to export the problem, as has been happening by shipping old computers to places like Guiyu, China. This is an example of the often-mentioned Summers memo in practice.
There seems to be a general disconnect between people and their government, where stakeholders are underrepresented and often overlooked. Parts of the world are moving up through various programs and with the aide of NGOs, but the extent of reach and strength of connection is not yet available in a way to represent and address stakeholder needs. This is true in the developing world and the developed world. Without a better network of support for communities who are busy trying to eat, drink, sleep, and raise their children, sustainable development will not happen in a widespread way. It will be limited to grassroots programs with people invested in improving the life and environment of others, more of a charity. I believe there is a long path ahead before this transfers to something “nice” done for the benefit of others to a world in which this is the common way of doing business.