What is sustainable development?

25 June 2020


Sustainable development is a broad term, it has many constituent parts, and is not simply limited to how we construct our buildings.

It is a term that can be misunderstood, misused, and incorrectly prefixed to the description of materials, processes and products. Barton (1) notes that Sustainable development is a phrase more honoured in the breach than in the observance, and that it is often used with casual abandon, as if mere repetition delivers green probity.

The concept of sustainable development was described by the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report (2) as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The report noted that there are four dimensions to sustainable development – society, environment, culture and economy – which are intertwined, not separate. These dimensions have been extended into the 2015 publication by The United Nations, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (3), which sets out 17 goals and 169 targets that will stimulate action up to 2030 in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:

What is sustainable development?

The Brundtland definition and the UN’s 17 goals illustrate the enormous scope and breadth of sustainable development, which extends way beyond how we construct our buildings.

(1) Barton H, 2000, Sustainable Communities The Potential for Eco-Neighbourhoods, Earthscan, London, 2000
(2) Brundtland H, 1987, Our Common Future The World Commission on Environment and Development, OUP, Oxford, 1987
(3) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300


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