What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development is a globally, regionally and locally ongoing process of continuous and targeted change in society. It aims at safeguarding opportunities for a good life to the current and future generations. This requires that the environment, people and the economy are equally taken into account in decision-making and activities.

The concept of sustainable development was brought up for the first time by the UN Brundtland Commission in 1987. The work of the Commission started a process that has progressed interactively on the state, municipal and international levels. Sustainable development policy has evolved and gradually become a more and more extensive and diverse entity.

Ecological sustainability

The fundamental prerequisite for sustainable development is to preserve biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems as well as to adapt people's economic and material actions to the nature's carrying capacity in the long term. In addition to the national measures, international cooperation also plays a key role in the endeavours towards ecological sustainability.

With regard to ecological sustainability, compliance with the precautionary principle is of utmost importance. According to the principle, a lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. Before taking any measures, the related risks, adverse effects and costs must be evaluated. Other important principles are the prevention of any adverse effects and combating the adverse effects in the regions of their origin. Furthermore, the costs for any adverse effects should be collected from the actor having caused them, where possible.

Economic sustainability

Economic sustainability means growth that is balanced both in terms of its contents and quality and that is not based on indebtedness or destruction of resources in the long term. Sustainable economy is a prerequisite for the key functions of society. Economic policy striving to achieve this in the long run creates ideal conditions for fostering and enhancing the national wellbeing.

Sustainable economy makes it also easier for society to deal with the new challenges such as the growing social security and health service costs when the population ages. Sustainable economy forms the foundation for social sustainability. The mechanisms fostering social sustainability, on the other hand, help for their part to alleviate the difficulties that may emerge in the rapidly changing world economy.

Social and cultural sustainability

The key objective of social and cultural sustainability is to secure the transition of the prerequisites for wellbeing from one generation to the next. The ever-continuing population growth, poverty, nutrition and health care, gender equality, and ensuring education for all are global social sustainability challenges with significant effects on the ecological and economic sustainability. To address these challenges, great efforts are required both from individual countries and the international community.

The manner and degree in which society’s economic and other development promote the wellbeing of the population in a given country significantly affect sustainable development. The basic wellbeing of citizens is one of the most important prerequisites for the promotion of ecological sustainability and its social acceptability.