Redefining sustainable development


IN 1991 I published a series of articles on sustainable development, introducing the term to South Africans who at the time were struggling under a corrupt apartheid state. The work commissioned by South Press and Grassroots, examined the findings of the Brundtland Commission and the report entitled Our Common Future, in which sustainable development was defined as ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future’.

Canvassing recently unbanned political parties on the subject, from the bustling South Press newsroom housed in Russel Street, Woodstock, I managed to stir up enough debate on the subject with the result that sustainable development was later included in South Africa’s constitution.

I am one of the first persons to introduce the term to the public while drawing links between apartheid and the environment, I went on to become a vocal critic of the over-use of the term to describe development by corporations eager to cash in on the environmental movement in what turned out be nothing more than a bit of greenwashing.

Now some twenty years after the constitutional victory, I am moved to question once again, the use of the term by our current government.

Sustainable development is not development which requires annual bail-outs from the treasury. Sustainable development is not development which ramps up the production of Greenhouse Gas (GHG).

Sustainable development is not development which destroys ecosystems whilst subjecting human populations to toxic chemicals.

Sustainable development involves a far broader view than the annual budget allocation for environmental affairs.

Sustainable development is more than a catch phrase or buzz term, it is an economic long-view which takes habitat and environmental factors into consideration, and which uses the inter-generational yard-post that avoids development which compromises the ability of future generations to live and prosper.

Sustainable development is thus a far reaching term and broader in scope than any particular generational concern, it has outlived the commission which produced it, and it will undoubtedly outlive both our government and those who introduced the term into South Africa’s constitution.

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