The most famous definition of sustainable development is a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In other words, a development that considers the Earth’s limited resources. Also known as having a low ecological footprint.
Today, one of the main agendas of the United Nations (UN) is to advocate for sustainable development. It is an overarching principle in all of their work. This ambition led to the Sustainable Development Goals from 2015, the so-called SDGs. 193 of 195 countries (all the UN members) work towards these goals. More so, they are 17 in total. For example, they address issues such as Goal 13, climate action, and Goal 5, gender equality.
The social, environmental and economic development
Sustainable development has three focus areas: social, environmental and economic. Sustainable projects need to consider these three cornerstones equally. Naturally, this can be complicated to achieve. Yet, many global initiatives strive for it, such as the SDGs. Furthermore, one can split the SDGs into five guiding categories: human beings, planet earth, well-being, peace and partnership. The last two (peace and partnership) are relatively new aspects of sustainability work.
Criticism of sustainable development
The work to achieve a sustainable future has been subject to criticism. The main critique has to do with the definition of the concept, because the broad definition makes it easier for people to call an effort sustainable, even if it is not. In other words, different initiatives can be called sustainable without having “the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” in mind.
Finally, many agendas or businesses present themselves as sustainable without considering the social, the environmental and the economy equally. Also, the word sustainable is at times used as a trick to get the approval or attention of people. For example, a company can claim to be sustainable yet have a product that creates social or environmental problems. This false claim is called greenwashing.