Sustainable Development concept

6,400 views

Published on

“Sustainable Development” (SD) is an expression frequently used by ecologists,
media and politicians, but it does not always carry the same concise meaning. The EEA
(1998) stated in 1998 that over 300 definitions of SD had been given, many of them inappropriate, as the outcome of different visions, values scales, interests and
ideologies. In this way, SD becomes a non-operative ‘chewing gum concept’ that
everybody can adapt in his own convenience (Bermejo, 2005, p.24)
The Brundtland Report (1987) states the most widely accepted definition of SD as
“the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs”. The worldwide commitment on the
acceptance of this definition constitutes a milestone in itself.

1 Comment
3 Likes
Statistics
Notes
No Downloads
Views
Total views
6,400
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
3
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
0
Comments
1
Likes
3
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Sustainable Development concept

  1. 1. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: TOWARDS A MORE OPERATIONAL CONCEPT? Alejo Etchart (1,986 words). October 2008 “Sustainable Development” (SD) is an expression frequently used by ecologists, media and politicians, but it does not always carry the same concise meaning. The EEA (1998) stated in 1998 that over 300 definitions of SD had been given, many of them inappropriate, as the outcome of different visions, values scales, interests and ideologies. In this way, SD becomes a non-operative ‘chewing gum concept’ that everybody can adapt in his own convenience (Bermejo, 2005, p.24) The Brundtland Report (1987) states the most widely accepted definition of SD as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The worldwide commitment on the acceptance of this definition constitutes a milestone in itself. The report not only defines SD, but also details the implications that it carries, referring to: - The fields involved in it, also called “the three pillars”: Social, Economic and Environmental. SD not only regards the care and protection of the environment; nor only the economical progress that is respectful with the environment, but it must also bear social aspects, looking for the progress to tackle the problem of world’s poverty. - The priority needs to be satisfied: the essential ones. The Strategic Imperatives listed in Brundtland report (Chapter 2) do mention “meeting the essential needs for jobs, food, energy, water and sanitation”. It does not mention aspirations as an imperative. As per the aspirations, it says that “SD requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity of satisfying their aspirations for a better living”. There is a difference: human needs are an objective to be satisfied through development; meeting aspirations would be ideal, but not something included in the definition. In Chapter 1, part II, we can also read that SD “seeks to meet the needs and aspirations (…)”, without being contradictory with the definition, as far as to seek means try to get or reach, rather than will or must. Many documents can be found that do not meet the definition provided in Brundtland report. Of special relevance for its importance in the development of Europe since the early nineties is Maastricht Treaty (1992), chapter 2. It does not state a definition of SD directly, but it does so indirectly by precisely avoiding it, as Susan Baker argues (Lafferty, 2000). She criticizes this shortcoming of the Treaty, and expresses her opinion that the confusing use of different terminology -“sustainable growth”, “sustainable progress” and “sustainable development”: - is not accidental; - favours the inconsistency of SD promotion;
  2. 2. - makes it possible for the UE to adopt strategies based in the old strategy of economic development based on growth disregarding environmental considerations; and - gives uncertainty to the policy objectives. She also says that the amendments of the EEC foundational Rome Treaty (1957) made in the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) re-establish the importance of SD, yet leaving the Maastricht Treaty semantic confusion unresolved. Roberto Bermejo (2005, p.27) thinks that Maastricht Treaty indirectly defines SD as “a harmonious and balanced development of economic activities, sustainable and non-inflationary growth respecting the environment”, and also criticizes this approach saying that: - only the economical and the environmental pillars of SD are referred to, not mentioning the social one; - the economical scope is dominant, with a detailed specification , while the environmental reference is limited to a vague “respect”; - it does not refer to basic needs satisfaction; - there is no reference to big structural reforms, and therefore the strategic planning is not contemplated; and - promotes an endless growth, contradicting not only the Brundtland Report, but also a large economical tradition and the common sense. The World Business Council for SD (WBCSD) approaches SD from the business side. In its document The Business Case for SD (2002), SD is defined as “forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. There is a subtle difference with Brundtland’s definition by saying “forms of progress” instead of “development”. This difference could be due to the aim of the authors of avoiding the repetition of a word defined within the definition, but it can also be interpreted as an intentional way to add a very significant shade of meaning. It says that there are “studies that suggest that overall economic growth benefit the poor”. No bibliographic support is given to this statement, which is contradicted by other authors, like Rodrik (2000), who reflects that in some developing countries the growth resulted in greater inequality -Chile, China and Poland, for example. The WBCSD considers the open markets as the best media, and businesses as main actors, to achieve the global sustainability. Therefore, they work to build an open international market, free from distorting subsidies and barriers, and from national governments which occupy a position that should be met by businesses in trying to satisfy people’s needs. Nevertheless, they claim for more taxes on things that should be discouraged (waste, pollution) and less in those that should be encouraged (jobs), so that market prices reflect the true environmental cost of goods and services, sending to the consumers the right signals to make intelligent decisions that will not be perceived otherwise because what consumers want is “performance, value, safety and reliability ahead of environment, social issues and aesthetics”. The WBCSD is conscious that the pressure that our current level of consumption is making on the Earth, and proposes “de-materialization” as the way to achieve “eco-
  3. 3. efficiency”, by de-linking goods and services from the use of nature. The ways to achieve de-materialization are - knowledge instead of material flows; - customization, not to offer customers more than what hey want; - close production loops, so that every output returns to the natural system or is used as an input to other product; - service extension, to promote leasing rather than buying; and - enhancing products’ and service’s functionality. Daly and Townsend (1993) thinks that de-materialization is an unachievable concept, since a growth that pretends to satisfy the needs of the world’s poor must be based on things needed by the poor, which are not precisely information services but material things such as foods and clothes. The document concludes that the expansion of the purchasing power to developing countries involves a huge potential for the companies that are able to adapt to the emerging markets with a proper sustainability management. C. Sneddon and others, in SD in a post-Brundtland World (2006), is on the opposite side of Maastricht Treaty, as it tries to expand (instead of to shorten) the concept of SD. It promotes the addition of new notions to the concept of SD, in order to make it operative in our days by filling it with a more powerful political and practical meaning. Yet, it applauds the importance of Brundtland’s definition as a history maker that has gained a worldwide convention, establishing the environment as a critical issue and starting an explosion of work on development and sustainability. Therefore, Sneddon tries a middle path, calling for serious calls for radical changes in order to achieve Brundtland’s three pillars of SD while still thinking possible the necessary reform of our current institutions, though reformed to be more efficient. This document gathers critical appraisals to SD concept coming from - Socio-cultural fields: SD is “a tale” that developed economies tell to ourselves in an attempt to disregard the needs and aspirations of the world’s poor. - Ecological sciences: SD is an unforgivable anthropocentric concept, “unable to dissolve the false barriers between the human sphere of economic and social activities and the ecological sphere that sustains these activities”. Sneddon states that the most critical sector of the SD mistrust the state-dominated institution to be able to promote the change. The authors say that the Ecological Economics Science has introduced so many and relevant innovations in last years, providing links between economics and ecology (through new indicators, concepts and valuations), that it is possible and convenient to refine Brundtland’s broad vision of SD into a more specific agenda. Facts prove that the Brundtland’s assumption that equity problems could be solved by growth have proved to be wrong, as inequity has grown together with the economy –contradicting again the diagnosis of the studies referred by the WBCSD. Regarding the sphere of political decisions, the authors think that the economic globalization (and subsequently the ecological one) makes necessary the reduction of
  4. 4. national sovereignties (that constitute the scope of Brundtland Report’s Strategic Imperatives in chapter 2) in favour of a trans-national authority. IIED’s Steve Bass, in his document A New Era in SD (2007), argues an approach that aligns with the authors of Sustainable Development in a post-Brundtland World in the sense that a conceptual change is needed. The reality shows that the world is far from following a SD. Economic growth is currently being thought rather an “inviolable principle” than a way to alleviate poverty or environmental degradation. He can see fundamental 3 relevant paradoxes in our world, namely - the permanence of the economical paradigm as the way to solve the problems that it has caused itself; - the world’s very poor performance in achieving SD co-exist with a general climate that recognizes the importance of Sustainable Development, yet continues taking resources from the future instead of creating resilience for it; and - lack of action in these years, “when it is most needed”. So, SD remains as a virtual rather than as an operational concept. Though the concept has been generally assumed among institutions and is being caught by the public, the progress towards SD has been inadequate, the causes for unsustainability remain and neither institutions, businesses nor individuals feel urgency to act. Bass thinks that the world’s priority for the next 20 years is to tackle the structural problems that distort developmental and environmental scenes, “focusing on key injustices and environmental tipping points, notably climate change”. The sentence in quotation marks comes to mean a change of the concept defined in Brundtland Report, because now it is the economic pillar the one which is subordinated to the Social and Environmental ones. In this sense, it promotes a change in the SD concept, which is also the main purpose of the Sneddon’s work. As a conclusion, a change would be good to make SD operational, as promoted directly by Sneddon and indirectly by Bass, in order to alter the threatening path that our world is following, thus preventing such relevant omission as the one committed in Maastricht from happening again. Although the implications of the WSCSD´s approach to the social pillar of SD are not clear, its confidence in already existing institutions (businesses and consumers attitudes, met in the market) can contribute to create a more realistic and operational concept of SD, provided that the necessary changes are effectively made, in order to internalize as much and many as possible of the environmental costs and reflect them in the final price of goods and services. BIBLIOGRAPHY
  5. 5. - Rodrik, D, “Growth versus poverty reduction: a hollo debate” (2000). Finance Development, volume 37, Number 4. - Bermejo, R. (2005:24), “La gran transición hacia la sostenibilidad”, 354pg. Los Libros de la Catarata. - (Brundtland Report) World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987): “Our Common Future”, 400 pg, Oxford. - Daly, H.E. el al. (1993). “Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem, from Valuing the Earth”. Economics, Ecology, Ethics, p.267 - EEA (European Environment Agency) (1998); “Making Susttainability Accountable”, Newsletter December 17th - Lafferty W.M., Meadowcroft J.R. “Implementing Sustainable Development: Strategies and Initiatives in High Consumption Societies” (2000). Oxford University Press, 2000, p.311 - Maastricht Treaty- Treaty on European Unity, Art. G (EEC Treaty Art. 2, amended), extract in http://www.wcl.american.edu/environment/iel/sup4.cfm - Sneddon C. et al., “Sustainable Development in a post-Brundtland World” (2006), Ecological Economics. Extracted pages 253–268 in http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc _view&gid=142

×