Sustainable development is a complex concept involving several interrelated issues, often known as the “three Es”:
- Social equity places the priority on satisfying the diversified needs of the population, such as food, health, and education being among the most basic. Self-reliance is also often perceived as a desirable social development goal, which contradicts economic concepts such as comparative advantages and interdependency. The issue of international solidarity is particularly paradoxical. It implies aid mechanisms to help nations/regions to cope with temporary disruptions such as a drought, but in some cases, it has become a systematic and enduring redistribution mechanism leaning on international aid and a bureaucracy managing this aid. Maintaining human capital (knowledge, skills, and capabilities) is mostly the responsibility of educational systems, but corporations also provide substantial training opportunities to their workforce.
- Economic efficiency promotes improvements in the welfare of populations. Key concepts are related to achieving or sustaining economic growth, maximize profits, increase competitiveness, and expand markets. Globalization has given a new dimension to economic development by enabling an extended range of comparative advantages. However, like all economic processes, globalization promotes growth differently as regions, and social classes capture its opportunities differently. This has led to inequalities.
- Environmental responsibility concerns the footprint of human activities on environmental systems, notably their carrying capacity. It aims to conserve and recycle resources and to reduce the generation of wastes.
Although all these issues can be conceptualized, most of them are highly complex in their nature and interrelations. They cannot be easily quantified.