“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”Brundtland Report, Our Common Future.
The concept of global sustainability is commonly linked with the “three E’s“, which are economic development, ecological development, and social equity (or development). Each of these issues intersects over specific realms of engagement:
- Welfare. Implies the numerous mechanisms where economic development can leverage social welfare and vice-versa. For instance, economic development generate surpluses that can be invested in numerous infrastructures (roads, utilities) and new technologies that benefit the society as a whole. Inversely, a society where the acquisition and development of knowledge are promoted will incite conditions that further economic development.
- Conservation. Various practices aiming at a more efficient usage of resources, including regulatory and pricing mechanisms trying to promote a lower environmental footprint. The goal is to leverage economic opportunities to develop technologies and practices that are less resource-intensive. It also includes the protection of selected areas and species by setting land aside (e.g. National parks systems).
- Ecologism (or environmentalism). A broad-based approach trying to reconcile the environment and the society through regulations and social behavioral norms.
Sustainable development expands further on the issue through a comprehensive approach that can be somewhat paradoxical. This leads to different paths in terms of if sustainable practices are derived from bottom-down approaches (laws, incentives, policies, and regulations) or let to market forces (bottom-up approaches) where entrepreneurs pursue sustainable strategies as a rationale to increase efficiency and profits. While the regulatory approach appears attractive, government intervention commonly leads to the misallocation of resources, corruption, inequity, and unintended consequences. On the other end, the private sector is often perceived as unable to effectively address environmental issues and prone to externalize its costs.