Sustainable development is a term most of us are familiar with, but what exactly does it mean and what are its fundamental principles?
What is sustainable development?
Popularised in 1987 in Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland report, by the United Nations World Commision on Environment and Development, the term refers to development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
3 Key principles
Ensuring a healthy society
Development activity should never endanger the health of existing or future communities. In fact, it should aim to safeguard health and promote personal wellbeing where possible. There are many projects that have these goals at their hearts. For example, international aid organisation Human Appeal has worked with communities in Amtola Untion, Natrakona Sadar in Bangladesh to improve access to safe drinking water and establish quality sanitation facilities in a sustainable way. This undertaking has helped to provide awareness about good hygiene practises and enabled children in schools and people in disaster-prone regions to stay as healthy as possible.
Achieving a sustainable economy
Sustainable economic development refers to efforts to create a strong, competitive economy without damaging our societies or environment. It means aiming for economic growth that makes our children and grandchildren better off too.
One way of building more robust economies is to tackle the gender gap that exists across the globe. Lack of female participation in the labour force results in a waste of talent and loss of gross domestic product. Female participation rates can be particularly low in developing countries where girls are excluded from education and barriers to employment and training exist for women. Some countries in the developing world are making headway with this issue through charity education and training initiatives. For example, a number of Bangladeshi women from disadvantaged families received sewing and textile training from Human Appeal and were introduced to potential business partners, given start-up resources and support to become entrepreneurs. This project helped to stimulate the economy and also helped to boost the education of the women’s children.
Living within environmental limits
To develop in a sustainable way, we must recognise that natural resources, such as land, water, air, animals and vegetation, need to be managed in a way that allows them to replenish. Not managing such resources effectively can lead to adverse and sometimes irreversible effects on human wellbeing.
One way to live within environmental limits is to buy local food or grow our own. This helps to keep the environmental impact of food production to a minimum. In emergency situations, the ability to work responsibly with the resources we have available to us and grow our own food has the added benefit of helping people to survive through desperate situations and improving psychological wellbeing by giving people some control over their lives.
In the city of Aleppo in Syria, for example, extreme shortages of food and steeply rising food prices have put civilians at risk of malnutrition. Rather than simply providing aid, Human Appeal International ran a home gardening project to improve the people’s resilience. Training was provided on agricultural principles, farming and home gardening techniques and the physical practice of soil preparation, seed patterns, recognising and preventing plant diseases and cooking methods. The knowledge and skills acquired meant that people could rely on themselves and their own immediate environment in a sustainable way.
To learn more about sustainable development and its aims, refer to the United Nations website.