Sustainability is:
"..development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
World Commission on the Environment and Development

Talking Points
  • Brundtland Commission started looking for environmental issues
  • People responded with many interrelated issues: jobs, health, ecological productivity, education, international trade
  • Sustainability is not as much about the environment as it is about our communities and economic systems and how they will survive into the future
  • The future is not short term; it is long term: 25 or 50 years

Although the concept of sustainability has been around for a long time, it became more widely used in the 1980s. Back in 1983, the Secretary-General of the UN established a commission called the World Commission on the Environment and Development. This commission is frequently referred to as the Brundtland Commission, after Gro Harlem Brundtland, the head of the commission and formerly the Prime Minister of Norway.

The commission was asked to look at the world's environmental problems and propose a global agenda for addressing them. She put together a team that went around the world and talked to people in all walks of life: fishermen, farmers, homemakers, loggers, school teachers, indigenous people and industry leaders. They asked what peoples' environmental concerns were and how they should be addressed.

The result of the study was that there wasn't one environmental issue that was first and foremost in peoples' minds. People talked about living conditions, resources, population pressures, international trade, education, and health. Environmental issues were related to all of these, but there was no hard and fast division separating environmental issues, social and economic issues. All the problems were intertwined. There were links among the environment, the economy and society that caused problems in one of these areas to affect the other areas.

As a result, the Brundtland Commission came up with this definition of sustainable development which emphasizes meeting needs, not just now, but in the future as well. (Source: Our Common Future, p8)

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