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Sustainable development can be seen as a "best fit" of the built environment to the natural environment. More accurately, it is the process of planning, designing and constructing in a way to reduce the overall environmental burden.
As the human population grows so does the the total consumption, material and energy. This, as it is the sum of the consumption of each person. Put another way, it is average consumption multiplied by population. As such, sustainable development also means that the population is kept at the same level or under the sustainable population limit.
Sustainable development is also used more broadly to describe financially and culturally sustainable development - that is, it accounts for all the financial needs and cultural context. This is closely related to the idea of appropriate development.
Poverty and sustainable development
International development can be boosted or held back by sustainable development concerns, depending on the context.
On the positive side, it can mean greater efficiency and lower resource use.
On the negative side, an excessive concern for the environmental impact of the poor could mean neglecting pressing needs, and may be inappropriate when their resource use is well below that of the rich. (See Tata Nano: The Paradox of Global Innovation, WorldChanging.com, blog post and comments, for a discussion of this issue.)
The definition of sustainable development has generally encapsulated some version of the Brundtland Commissions’W concept:
“development that meets the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
(World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987:43). World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).1987. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Questioning conventional models of development
The article Sustainable development is an oxymoron argues that development programs have sometimes had a negative impact, by not only failing to achieve their aims, but also undermining simple living.
"Just sustainability" offers a socially just conception of sustainability. Just sustainability effectively addresses what has been called the 'equity deficit' of environmental sustainability (Agyeman, 2005:44). It is “the egalitarian conception of sustainable development" (Jacobs, 1999:32). It generates a more nuanced definition of sustainable development: “the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems” (Agyeman, et al., 2003:5). This conception of sustainable development focuses equally on four conditions: improving our quality of life and well-being; on meeting the needs of both present and future generations (intra- and intergenerational equity); on justice and equity in terms of recognition (Schlosberg, 1999), process, procedure and outcome and on the need for us to live within ecosystem limits (also called one planet living) (Agyeman, 2005:92).
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- Agyeman, J., Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice, (New York, USA: New York University Press, 2005), 44.
- Jacobs, M., Sustainable Development as a Contested Concept, in A. Dobson, Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 32.
- Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D., and Evans, B. eds., Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World (Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2003), 5.
- Schlosberg, D., Environmental Justice and the New Pluralism: The Challenge of Difference for Environmentalism, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999)
- Agyeman, J., Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice, (New York, USA: New York University Press, 2005), 92.