Sustainable development has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report.
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time.
When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from North America affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia.
And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults.
We also understand that quality of life is a system, too. It's good to be physically healthy, but what if you are poor and don't have access to education? It's good to have a secure income, but what if the air in your part of the world is unclean? And it's good to have freedom of religious expression, but what if you can't feed your family?
The concept of sustainable development is rooted in this sort of systems thinking. It helps us understand ourselves and our world. The problems we face are complex and serious—and we can't address them in the same way we created them. But we can address them.
Building sustainable communities is emerging as a fundamental necessity for solving critical human problems. Indeed, all human societies depend for their very existence on the establishment and maintenance in an environment of global change of human relationships that are healthy and sustainable. Whether these relationships are personal; based in families, clans or tribal groups; economic; social or cultural, they are connected together in an interdependent web of influence and effect. It is becoming abundantly clear that sustainable community is a basic human need and that, in its absence, human life becomes distorted, painful and often self-destructive. Understanding the interconnectedness of issues is crucial for the survival of communities all over the world.
While the integrity of communities has a tremendous impact on human well-being, communities are made up of people. If the individuals that make up a community are struggling with a host of personal dysfunctions due to trauma, fear, addictions, physical or sexual abuse, or just the lack of opportunities to learn and develop human potential, then their community will be held back.
These two dimensions of personal healing and community development are like two wings of the same bird. Both are needed and each depends of the other.
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