What does it Mean?
Sustainable development refers to growth “that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.[i] This is an important way of thinking about sustainable development because it places human well-being at its very centre. Yes, it implies a limit on consumption, but one that is imposed by nature’s ability to absorb and recuperate from human activities such as carbon emissions and industrial agriculture.
The concept of sustainable development does not solely focus on saving trees and reducing our carbon footprint to avoid the apocalyptic affects of climate change in the future (some of which is already being felt). It also gives equal importance to the impacts on current human well-being and the well-being of future generations.
An Inter-disciplinary Perspective
The best way to demonstrate the many, yet overlapping issues related to sustainable development is through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Created in 2015, the SDGs urge developing and developed countries to address issues such as ending poverty, hunger and social inequalities, protecting and restoring natural landscapes, oceans and wildlife populations, and creating communities that can withstand impacts of climate change, reduce consumption and provide decent work for all by 2030.
Ambition is Necessary
This may seem like a lot to accomplish in 15 years, but if you consider a broad lens on some of these issues you will start to see some overlap. Ending hunger, for example, can be addressed while simultaneously tackling poverty, health, inequality, clean water, decent work, and several other goals. Similarly, the issue of eliminating single-use plastics can address goals related to health, inequalities, clean water, sustainable cities, reduced consumption, protecting our oceans and landscapes, and climate action. Yes, there is a lot to cover but the SDGs do not compartmentalize such issues, rather they integrate solutions for a broader impact.
What can You Do?
Now, on a personal note, think about what goals you identify most with. I then challenge you to think more broadly and look for ways that issue relates to other goals.
For more information on the SDGs and what each goal entails, visit the SDG website, click on whichever goal interests you, and review the targets associated with it. What are ways that you can help achieve that goal in your community?
[i] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (1987).