sustainable development meaning

Sustainable development, the close connection between environment and development led to the emergence of the sustainable development concept, which calls for attention to environmental protection.

The world has become fully convinced of the importance of addressing environmental problems, from the risks of pollution resulting from enterprises' activities that result in negative external effects on all components of the environment. Economic exchanges are taking on a growing environmental dimension, and for its part, international pollutants have more severe economic effects.

1. What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development is a mode of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations' ability to meet theirs.

It is a principle of organization of human society that takes into account the finite resources of the planet and acts on three interdependent dimensions:

The environmental dimension

The development of human activities must be done in such a way as not to harm the capacity for renewal of natural resources or the proper functioning of c services.

The social dimension

The harmonious development of human society goes through social cohesion guaranteeing everyone access to basic resources and services (health, education).

The economic dimension

Economic development must allow the reduction of extreme poverty and the exercise by as many people as possible of a decently remunerated economic activity.

In the long run, development will not be possible if it is not economically efficient, socially equitable, and environmentally tolerable.

2. The three pillars of sustainable development

An economic and social development respectful of the environment.

The objective of sustainable development is to define viable schemes and reconcile the three economic, social and environmental aspects of human activities; “Three pillars” to be taken into account, by communities as well as by companies and individuals:

  • Economic: "classic" financial performance and the ability to contribute to the economic development of the area where the company is and to that of all levels.
  • Social: social consequences of the company's activity at all levels: employees (working conditions, level of remuneration, etc.), customers, suppliers, local communities, and society in general.
  • Environmental: compatibility between the social activity of the company and the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystems. It includes an analysis of the impacts of companies' social development and their products in terms of flow, consumption of resources, which are difficult or slowly renewable, and in terms of production of waste and polluting emissions. This last pillar is necessary for the other two.

Related: Seven ways for environmental protection throughout the year

3. Sustainable development goals and objectives; what is the main focus of sustainable development?

The objective of sustainable development is to define viable patterns that bring together the economic, social, and environmental aspects of human activities. Therefore, these three areas must be taken into account by communities and companies, and individuals. Sustainable development aims to find a coherent and viable long-term balance between these three issues. In addition to these three pillars, there is a cross-cutting issue essential for defining and implementing policies and actions relating to sustainable development; that is, good governance.

Governance corresponds to the modalities of the decision-making process. In terms of sustainable development, the definition of objectives and their implementation presupposes a consensus between all the players in society; private and public companies, associations, unions, and citizens.

Sustainable development is not the result of spontaneous generation but rather a set of transformations. The exploitation of natural resources, the choice of types of investments, and the orientation of technological and institutional changes are in harmony with present and future needs. As we have already indicated, sustainable development objectives are to be considered at the individual level, at that of companies, and the planetary level.

4. Sustainable development principles; what are the 6 principles of sustainable development?

Sustainable development aims to translate into policies and practices a set of 27 principles set out at the Rio Conference in 1992. Among these principles:

The responsibility

Practiced at the individual and collective levels. At the international level, "given the diversity of roles played in the degradation of the global environment, states have common but differentiated responsibilities. Developed countries recognize their responsibility in the international effort for sustainable development ".

For example, in rich countries, the main culprits of global climate change commit to quotas to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Liability leads to other applications such as the polluter pays principle, that of repairing damage caused.


- In time; between the present and future generations. Thus, the choices of the present must be taking into account the needs of future generations, their right to live in a healthy environment.

- In space; between North and South, East and West, between poor regions and rich regions, between urban and rural areas.

Example: the commitment of 0.7% of GDP for Aid Public Development (ODA) to Southern countries. Currently, this figure remains, on average, 0.3%.

The participation

This principle aims to implement transparent and pluralistic information, consultation, public debate, and conflict management processes by integrating all the players concerned at all decision-making levels, from local to international.

For example, citizens' conferences, the participatory budget, the mechanisms provided for in the Cotonou Agreements, and the Aarhus Convention of 1998 (access to information, participation, and environmental justice).

The precaution

Where there is a risk of serious or irrevocable damage, the lack of scientific certainty should not be a pretext to postpone adopting effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. Precaution differs from "prevention," which analyzes, for example, the relationship between the cost of pollution control and the benefits in terms of jobs created. In terms of precaution, faced with risks, we act to make the choices reversible, without evaluating the costs.

Example: The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) authorizes the refusal of importation of GMO products for health or environmental reasons.


Decision-making and responsibility must rest with the lowest administrative or political level able to act effectively. International rules should be suitable to local and sub-regional contexts.

For example, an international cooperation action must be part of the policies decided and implemented locally and not replace them.

Continuous improvement

The principle of improvement, in small but continuous steps, has a practical side that encourages action. This continuous improvement principle is based on experience acquired (in particular by companies) in terms of quality.

It involves measuring the situation, setting progress objectives, formulating progress actions, implementing and evaluating them, then constantly restarting the procedure (Plan - Do - Prove and Control - Correct and React).

Example: reduction of greenhouse gases and the company, reduction of polluting waste, under the ISO standard. 14001, which relied on the principle of continuous improvement of environmental performance by controlling the company's activity's impacts.

Originally published on Live Positively.