Sustainable Development in Practice. Enhancement of Human Living Standards and Gains in Wellbeing

Academic Paper, 2006

10 Pages, Grade: 2


Being invented by Eva Balfour and Wes Jackson (Reid, 1995) sustainable development for the first time appeared in the World Conversation Strategy published by the World Conversation Union in 1980. However, first prominence was given to this elusive term in 1987 by the document Our Common Future produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development and its chairwoman Brundtland. Her definition that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (1987) still today is often used directly or in a paraphrased way to explain what sustainable development is. In those times absolute economic growth was seen as the only remedy to overcome inequalities and injustice. The fairly elusive definition of Brundtland was specified in 1991 with the sustainable development target of “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems” (quoted by Environmental Agency, 1999). The idea of living within environmental limits was introduced.

With the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 sustainable development finally reached the international policy agenda. The summit’s output document Agenda21 established sustainable development as a balancing process of economic, environmental and social interests. This view is hugely influential today and often diagrammed in three mutually overlapping circles. Moreover the Agenda21 asked all participating countries to draw up national sustainable development plans which should be submitted to the Commission of Sustainable Development. Amended by the LocalAgenda21 the idea of a “bottom-up” approach was launched, so that regional and local responsibilities were underlined.

As the millennium had changed ambitious targets were set in 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations and another summit was held in 2002 in Johannesburg. Outputs of these times often are described as unsatisfying and short cut. Being on the agenda for such a long time, the term of sustainable development is being discussed controversially and many different interpretations have been produced. However, the definition of Brundtland and the balance of economic, environmental and social aspects amended by the awareness of environmental limits seem to be the most acknowledged. Arguing whether economic growth or a balance of three aspects is vital, the overarching goal of sustainable development always has been the enhancement of human living standards and gains in wellbeing.

Motivated by the Agenda21 England produced its first document on sustainable development in 1994. With the publication of Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy it perpetuated ideas of This Common Inheritance which had been completed in 1990. Reviewed and adapted, the A Better Quality Of Life paper was published in 1999. Due to changing conditions and new interactions of government and local level authorities England recently produced Securing The Future: Delivering UK Sustainable Development Strategy in 2005.

With the help of an appraisal of this topical strategy this essay gives an example of sustainable development in practice. Firstly, it appraises the general approach and secondly the aspect of decoupling growth from environmental degradation in detail.

Having examined the evolution of sustainable development notions of the last decades it is now possible to compare the UK strategy to what is established to be sustainable development.

Although being very complex and multilayered the strategy’s core target can be identified as the enhancement of human wellbeing of the current and the future generations by more efficient economic growth within environmental limits. This goal corresponds with known targets of sustainable development. It puts the human wellbeing in its heart and recognises that all activities must not exceed environmental limitations. A basic means, amongst others, is seen in sustainable economic growth, which is carefully examined later in this essay.

The prevailing notion of sustainable development, including the three aspects, namely economic, environmental and social concerns, can be found in Securing The Future strategy as well. A single chapter of the strategy is dedicated to each of the three sustainabilities.

First off all, chapter three denoted One planet Economy deals with the economic dimension of sustainable development. As this is the first chapter concerning measures towards sustainable development, it underlines the priorities the English government attaches to this aspects. The basic idea of this chapter is to decouple economic growth from the environmental impacts it causes.

Chapter five entitled A Future Without Regrets outlines the approach towards environmental issues of sustainable development. It is acknowledged that “natural resources are vital” (p.97) and wellbeing is directly linked to it. Therefore it concentrates on the respect of environmental boundaries and decent ecosystems.

Finally chapter six labelled From Local To Global addresses the social dimension in considering sustainable communities. This part is the closest to the strategy targets as it aims at the wellbeing of humankind. It comprises amongst others, social inclusion, enhanced living standards and the meeting of needs.

Although the commonly known three sustainabilities can be identified, it is hardly possible to confine them to a single chapter. For example, environmental issues are not only presented in their own dedicated chapter but they also take a huge focus in the economic chapter and in the sustainable community approach. The fact that the three sustainabilities are interrelated in a very complex way in this strategy indicates that the complexity of sustainable development has been accounted for.

The three chapters mentioned already are amended by three further valuable chapters that do not broaden the definition of sustainable development but expand the scope of the UK strategy.

Chapter two introduces the aspect of behaviour change to the strategy. Considering that Reid regards it as important that “individuals become aware” and “begin to discuss what they can do” (1995, p.173) it seems that the EEEE-rhombus approach is a valuable means to boost people and community participation. The EEEE-rhombus approach includes issues to encourage, enable and engage people. Moreover central government exemplifies sustainable development on the ground. This comprehensive approach is added to each chapter and therefore underlines the importance of peoples participating and their potential to catalyse sustainable development. Additionally this corresponds with a core principle of the LocalAgenda21 (Office of Sustainability, 2005).

As “climate change may pose a fundamental threat to sustainable development” (Alfsen, 2001) it is reasonable to include its tackling approach in a sustainable development strategy, as chapter four does. The inclusion of climate change also underlines another vital aspect of Securing the Future. Measures are not only confined to the national level but also brought to “all people throughout the world” (HM Government, 2005). Hence the tackling of climate change, which “greatest negative effects fall among the poorest of the poor people” (Alfsen, 2001), embrace fairness and equity as well as global action towards wellbeing. However, the complexity of climate change only can be accounted for in a separate strategy.

The third additional aspect is concerned in chapter 7 denoted Ensuring It Happens. “Putting good intentions expressed in policy documents into practice is far from straightforward” (Bulkeley and Betsill, 2003) and therefore the implementation of measures has to be considered carefully. The strategy underlines the importance of capacity building actions and reviewing processes, such as they can be delivered by the Sustainable Development Commission. As implementation is the crossroad whether a strategy is successful or not the dedication of a comprehensive chapter to this issue is valuable.

Having considered six chapters of the strategy it is to underline that the commonly known definition of sustainable development is apparent in Securing The Future. However, it seems as if the notion of sustainable development is evolved further in practical terms. Not only the targets of wellbeing, the limitations by natural capacities and the supremacy of economy are mentioned but additionally the 'how-to' aspects got a more important role to play as behaviour change and implementation are considered. The inclusion of climate change is also to be appreciated.

Furthermore, the strategy wants to facilitate good governance and the usage of sound science to achieve wellbeing within environmental limits. These issues seem to be new to sustainable development strategies; however, they can catalyse a great progress.

Good governance is introduced as the obligation of the government to do the best it can towards participation and engagement of people. As it addresses governmental duties it is a valuable issue to underline that burdens are shared.

The responsible usage of sound science, furthermore, comprehensively broadens the strategy’s scope. The findings of science can be utilised to catalyse sustainable development according to the needs of humankind. Moreover, it accounts for the great uncertainties sustainable development is based on.

Being evident in more than one chapter two further aspects are generally appraised in the following.

An interesting aspect of the strategy is the limitation of all actions by environmental constraints. Enhancing wellbeing "without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland, 1987) is a core notion of sustainable development. Attempting to ensure that future generation still can meet their needs it is imaginable that one aspect might be the respect of environmental limits so that the environmental potential is not compromised. This aspect is enhanced by the strategy with the awareness that current consumption and production have severe impacts on the environment. "Sustainable consumption and production” (p.42) are thought to keep impacts within limits. Acknowledging that environment poses limits, the strategy aims at a valorisation of already degraded environmental system. This is a valuable issue as it recovers losses and broadens the environmental boundaries. The latter is seen as a measure of "bringing the total ecological impacts ... within the sustainable boundary” by Reid (1995). Living within limits therefore on the one hand means reducing impacts but on the other hand also to broaden limits, which can be desirable but also is an arguable aspect.

As mentioned before the strategy sees the need to change people’s behaviour. According to findings of Olsen, "significant human progress” was made when images of the future were created and used to catalyse people’s action (1995). In his document Sustainability As A Social Vision Olsen establishes five characteristics a vision has to have to be motivating to people. It has to be believable, highly positive, open ended, responsive and integrative. Corresponding to this idea the Securing The Future strategy states that "it needs to paint a picture of what things should look like if we achieve sustainable development” (HM Government, 2005). However, further evidences of an overarching vision are only found indirectly and not especially highlighted. Chapter seven embodies the great potential to become the "picture” of a sustainable world. Sustainable communities are the realisation of sustainable development and consequently they are the target all endeavours have to point to. A rather graphic image is created by the description in chapter seven. Nevertheless, the issue of sustainable communities could be utilised more efficiently to promote targets of behaviour changes mentioned in chapter two.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Sustainable Development in Practice. Enhancement of Human Living Standards and Gains in Wellbeing
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Sustainability, Sustainable, Development, Nachhaltigkeit, Nachhaltige Entwicklung, Praxisbeispiele, Best Practice
Quote paper
Bastian Görke (Author), 2006, Sustainable Development in Practice. Enhancement of Human Living Standards and Gains in Wellbeing, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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