Chapter 3: What is sustainability and what is sustainable?
Our relationship with the other elements in our 'natural' environment has become framed in the context of the concept of 'sustainability', or 'sustainable development'. This concept emerged in the 1960s, was brought into the mainstream, perhaps, by the Club of Rome report of the 1970s (Meadows et al., 1972), but was really defined by the report of the World Council for Environment and Development, commonly known as the Brundtland report (WCED, 1987) after its chair, former Norwegian prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. Under her guidance the committee offered the following definition of sustainable development: '. . . development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (WCED, 1987: 43). The subsequent Rio Earth Summit, masterminded by the United Nations in 1992, 'placed the issue of sustainable development at the heart of the international agenda', as then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali put it. Sustainable development has come to be understood as aiming for a balance between the economic, the social and the environmental in all our activities. It is on this basis that it has been pursued in the worlds of government and business. Clearly, both are familiar with the economic and, to a lesser extent, perhaps the social, although the environmental still often proves elusive. It is in this context that it is often argued that sustainability is a complex concept. Complex it may be, but that does not make it difficult.
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