What Is Sustainable Development?
As the United Nations first defined the term in 1987, sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It is also commonly defined as “economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources,” according to The Green Connection.
People often only consider economics when growing businesses, buildings, cities, etc, without considering how sustainable their actions are in other ways — for example, in terms of the climate, the overall economy, equality, public health, the community, and more. Sustainable development is the idea that we need to consider how actions will affect the future as well as the present, in ways besides economically.
Why Is Sustainable Development Important?
As the Sustainable Development Commission explains, the central goal of sustainable development is to balance the varying needs and limitations that our society faces. This is a challenge because sometimes these goals can conflict with each other. But if we do not work to achieve them, there will be dire consequences — and since respecting the environment is at the core of sustainable development, one of the most significant consequences of unsustainable development is the climate crisis deepening.
What Are the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals?
The UN has 17 Sustainable Development Goals, each of which addresses issues being faced all over the world. The UN has specific targets regarding each goal that it aims to achieve by 2030.
Here are the UN's 17 goals for sustainable development, along with some facts courtesy of the UN:
- No poverty — 783 million people live below the poverty line.
- Zero hunger — 815 million people on Earth are malnourished.
- Good health and well-being — The UN’s central health goals are to improve child health, maternal health, and infectious viruses and diseases like HIV/Aids and malaria.
- Quality education — 57 million children elementary school-aged children are not in school.
- Gender equality — There are still 49 countries that do not have laws protecting women and girls from physical and sexual violence.
- Clean water and sanitation — Poor economics and infrastructure issues have lead to 3 in 10 people worldwide not having access to clean drinking water, according to the UN.
- Affordable and clean energy — 13 percent of people on Earth do not have access to modern electricity, as per the UN.
- Decent work and economic growth — Worldwide, the workforce still favors men over women in many ways.
- Industries, innovation, and infrastructure — A lack of basic infrastructure in developing countries stands in the way of achieving other goals on the list.
- Reduced inequalities — We need more policies to combat the widespread inequalities against children, women, racial minorities, people with disabilities, and developing countries.
- Sustainable cities and communities — This goal is all about allowing cities and communities to grow while respecting the environment, in terms of things such as land, resources, housing, infrastructure, and pollution.
- Responsible consumption and production — Considering the world’s ever-growing population and our exponential need for resources, making sure we are responsibly producing and using our resources is more important than ever.
- Climate action — Since the climate crisis is a global issue, the UN believes that developed nations from all over the world need to work together to help each other as well as help developing countries.
- Life below water — Protecting our oceans (as well as the animals who live in them) is one of the most important things we can do for the planet.
- Life on land — The UN emphasizes the importance of protecting our forests, which cover 30.7 percent of the Earth’s surface, and have so many positive impacts on the environment.
- Peace, justice, and strong institutions — Everything on this list sounds like an issue we need to overcome in order to achieve world peace, but this item is really all about it. To help reduce violence and crime rates worldwide, we need to work to reduce corruption in institutions such as the police and judicial authorities.
- Partnerships for the goals — This goal is all about forging relationships between governments, the private sector, and communities all over the world.
How Can Achieving Sustainable Development Benefit the Earth?
As you can see, many of the Sustainable Development Goals directly address issues related to the Earth and the climate. The UN believes that achieving the targets set by 2030 will significantly help improve those issues, therefore bettering the planet and hopefully curtailing the climate crisis.
How Can We Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?
The UN has a series of specific targets that will help achieve all 17 goals. The targets are fairly broad, so in order to accomplish them, we need to get legislators all over the world to pass laws regulating sustainable development. It is also important to get corporations to commit to more sustainable business practices. One small yet significant way governments and corporations are doing this is by building LEED certified buildings.
What is LEED Certification for Buildings?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED, is a global program that awards buildings with outstanding environmentally-friendly designs. LEED is the most popular green building rating system on Earth, and it takes into account energy-efficiency, resource-efficiency, cost-effectiveness, construction practices, and more when considering buildings for the LEED certification.
Well-known buildings with LEED plaques include: New York’s One World Trade Center and One Bryant Park, China’s Shanghai Tower and Jin Mao Tower, California’s Facebook HQ, and Connecticut’s Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
While LEED is best known for its building certifications, LEED plaques can also be awarded for green interior design, homes, neighborhood development, and building maintenance practices.
What Is Sustainable Urban Planning?
Another way that governments are helping with sustainable development is via sustainable urban planning, also known as city planning or town planning. City planning is the process of planning and organizing how a city works, including everything from the roads to the buildings to the use of natural resources to public transportation.
According to the University of Texas Arlington (UTA), sustainable urban planning encompasses a variety of professions coming together in order to build and maintain cities and towns with sustainable practices. Those professions include “architecture, engineering, biology, environmental science, materials science, law, transportation, technology, economic development, accounting and finance, and government,” as per UTA.
The fact that so many disciplines need to work together for effective and sustainable city planning sheds some light on why local government work has a reputation for being so slow-moving. Even when bureaucrats have an amazing idea that will make their town more sustainable, they have to go through a lot of red tape before their idea can actually come to fruition.
How Will the Paris Agreement Help With Global Sustainable Development?
The Paris Agreement is a landmark accord that leaders from countries all over the world signed in 2016. The agreement’s main goal is for every nation to work together to keep the Earth’s overall temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would help fight the climate crisis.
What Is Sustainable Infrastructure Development?
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, it’s imperative to attain a sustainable infrastructure across governments, as that will “trigger sustainability improvements across a host of industries.” So before we can fully solve issues like hunger, clean water, and proper sanitation, we need to improve infrastructure all over the world.
What Jobs Are There in Sustainable Development?
As the world becomes more and more concerned with protecting the planet for future generations, jobs in sustainable development will only continue to grow. According to Columbia University, work fields related to sustainable development include: public health, city planning, preservation management, environmental laws, government, journalism, public relations, technical writing, community development, education, and corporate social responsibility.