What Is Sustainable Development?

What Is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development is broadly defined as: ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

The drive for economic growth has resulted in problems such as environmental degradation and social disparities. Sustainable development prescribes for a more balanced approach to growth that progresses development across three underlying pillars: social inclusion, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

Quality of life assessments, such as the OECD’s How’s Life 2020 report, have told us that economic growth does not equate to happiness or a sense of well-being. As the global population increases so too does the pressure on our biosystem and social equity. Sustainable development calls for the adoption of more responsible consumption and production patterns.

The industrial revolution brought about unprecedented economic growth and many advances such as electricity. Coal has generally been an affordable source of energy for much of the world, but it has come at a huge cost to the environment and society. Coal is a finite resource, which produces harmful greenhouse gases that have largely contributed to climate change.

A more sustainable approach is to adopt energy efficient technologies and diversify our energy supply. Renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biomass, is an alternative energy source, which doesn’t pose harmful effects to our health and our environment. New renewable energy technologies can also represent new economic opportunities. Monash was the first Australian university to commit to an energy reduction target and we're proud to be a leader in taking action on climate change, including co-founding Climateworks Centre with the Myer Foundation to accelerate the transition to net zero emissions for Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In recognition of the need for a more sustainable approach to development, a report was published called: Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Report). The report was released in 1987 by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development and set out the concept of sustainable development for the first time along with its guiding principles.

Sustainable development can be achieved through localised initiatives. In 1992 the Rio Earth Summit resulted in Agenda 21, Think Globally, Act Locally. Local initiatives can support access to clean water through sanitation programs, address hunger through community food banks and community gardens, promote local recycling initiatives and ensure that all children have access to a quality education through tailored support for girls, vulnerable children and those with disabilities.

In 2015 the United Nations and its 193 member countries adopted the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 15-year plan that addresses 17 global and interconnected issues, including the reduction in poverty and hunger, putting an end to discrimination and preventing the long-term consequences of climate change. The Goals and targets to stimulate action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all are set out in Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals and how Monash is doing its part to contribute to the SDGs.