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The Principles of Sustainable Development

Triple Bottom Line

Today the most prominent and universal definition of sustainable development is contained within the Brundtland Report as an outcome of 4 years of study and debate by the WCED led by the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Commission defined sustainable development as follows:

«Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.» (WCED, 1987, Our Common Future, p. 54)

This concept comprises two strong elements: (1) the element of satisfying human needs and requirements (i.e. quality of life or human well-being) and (2) an element of intra- and intergenerational ethics («don't cheat your fellow citizens and children»). The latter element is required due to the strains imposed by both intensive technologies and social organizations on nature's ability to provide → essential ecosystem services for present and future generations. 

In order to operationalise this rather vague concept the notion of the so called 'triple bottom line' has evolved which lead to viewing sustainable development as a dynamic, long-term multi-level and multi-actor process based on three mutually reinforcing pillars or on the reconciliation of three imperatives respectively (commonly referred to as the «triple bottom line» of sustainable development):

Social equity

or the improvement of human well-being (i.e. a social imperative to effectively propagate and safeguard the values that people wish to live by);

Economic security

or more equitable distribution of resource use benefits across and within societies (i.e. an economic imperative to ensure that resources are used efficiently and effectively for the benefits of all people worldwide); and

Ecological integrity

or the protection of nature's capability to provide essential ecosystem services over intra- and intergenerational scales (i.e. an ecological imperative to respect global biophysical carrying capacities and to maintain biodiversity).

From this understanding of the general concept it is possible deducing the principles of sustainable development or the so called management rules for a sustainable society:

Part III: The Principles →