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What is sustainable development?

The definition of sustainable development used in Measuring New Zealand’s Progress Using a Sustainable Development Approach: 2008 is based on that adopted by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987, commonly referred to as the Brundtland definition:

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

Central ideas associated with the concept of sustainable development that arise from the Brundtland definition are:

  • meeting needs and maintaining options. In this report the concept of well-being is used, as it is a term that is familiar in the New Zealand context
  • the principle of fairness between present and future generations
  • the limits of the environment.

Based on these concepts, the definition of sustainable development used in this report is:

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

Sustainable development means ensuring that well-being is at least maintained over time. The principle of fairness within and between present and future generations should be taken into account in the use of environmental, economic, and social resources.

Putting these needs into practice requires living within the limits of the natural environment.

The definition is discussed more fully in ‘Further discussion on defining sustainable development’ in part C.

While the Brundtland definition is a commonly accepted definition of sustainable development, there are other ways of measuring the concept, which are also discussed in the chapter ‘Further discussion on defining sustainable development’ in part C.

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