In Finland, the history of the interpretation of sustainable development as a concept can be summarised as follows:

Gro Harlem Brundtland 1987

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

This definition was applied in the report of the Finnish Commission on Environment and Development and the following Government report to the Parliament, "Sustainable development and Finland" (Kestävä kehitys ja Suomi, 1990).

Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development 1994/1995, the memorandum of a working group led by Professor Pentti Malaska

 "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." At the centre of this approach are three dimensions, environmental-economic, societal and cultural, where the economy is subjected to ecological sustainability. The approach emphasises human's intellectual regeneration both in terms of human capital and ethical growth.

Sustainable development and four different kinds of capital, from the end of the 1990s onwards

Ismael Serageldin, the former Vice President of the World Bank, formulated the definition of sustainable development in a manner understandable by the economic politicians: "Sustainability is to leave future generations as many opportunities as we ourselves have had, if not more."

These opportunities can be interpreted as wealth, property or capital, which can be concretised and measured with four different kinds of capital. In Finland, VATT Institute for Economic Research has further developed this thinking.

Four kinds of capital

  • human capital (e.g. competencies, science, research and development, patents)
  • physical or man-made capital (e.g. productive machinery, infrastructure, built environment)
  • social capital (e.g. legislation, administration, social networks, confidence and legitimacy)
  • natural capital (renewable and non-renewable natural resources)

With regard to sustainable development, it is important to strengthen especially the human and social capitals. This means that society and citizens must be able to be innovative and manage changes occuring in the man-made capital so that the natural capital is not reduced but instead continues to produce natural services to people, generation after generation.