What is sustainable development?
It’s been a buzzword for the last ten years or so, but what exactly is sustainable development?
Environmental protection? Changing consumer habits? Reducing inequality? Sustainable development is all those things and more. A core concept that has been explored and broadened since it first came into use in the early 1990s. Klorane Botanical Foundation can help shine some light on the concept.
What is sustainable development?
Definition and brief history of sustainable development
The term first officially appeared the conclusions of the Brundtland Report in 1987, which was drawn up by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. This seminal document entitled “Our Common Future” proposed we define sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
This definition marked an important turning point in awareness of the social and ecological crises. It unequivocally recognised that we live in a world of finite resources, and one in which growth cannot be infinite. It must be reasonable, reasoned and appropriate.
The whole concept of sustainable development is actually a new way of organising society, no longer based on exponential economic growth, but on finding a balance between progress and resources, between our present and future needs.
Sustainable development takes the social, economic and environmental aspects of our societies into account, setting out a roadmap that addresses the issues of the day while anticipating those of tomorrow. It’s all about preserving the environment, reducing inequalities, social justice, production models, consumption habits, and so on. It’s about seeing development within the limits of what the planet allows. Sustainable, yes, but for whom? For the human race, but the ENTIRE human race. The term itself seeks to encompass all the dimensions of what makes life possible on Earth, in the conditions as we know them today. But it also aims to go further, as the notion of development implies a continuous improvement of the present situation.
This is what led to the 17 sustainable development goals being adopted by the UN in 2015, which have now been adopted by all types of stakeholders around the world as a structuring framework:
- No poverty
- Zero hunger
- Good health and well-being
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Clean water and sanitation
- Affordable and clean energy
- Decent work and economic growth
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Responsible consumption and production
- Climate action
- Life below water
- Life on land
- Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Partnerships for the goals
The difference between sustainable development and ecology
Ecology is a science! The science of interactions between living things and ecosystems, to be more precise. The term was coined by a German biologist in 1866, Ernst Haeckel, literally as the “science of habitats”. It has since taken on a much broader meaning, encompassing everything to do with the relationships between living organisms and their physical environments. Today, the term “ecologist” is used to designate a scientist, environmentalist or supporter of ecological policies.
Sustainable development, on the other hand, is a model for organising society where attitudes to the environment are inspired by the principles of ecology, as the science of ecosystems. In a way, sustainable development is the sociological extension of ecology, based on decades of scientific knowledge on the topic.
The difference between sustainable development and CSR
CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility, has taken pride of place in the world of business over the last ten years or so. And with good reason! The European Commission defines it as “the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their commercial activities and their relations with stakeholders”.
CSR is therefore about adapting the principles of sustainable development to a company’s ambitions. It’s where business targets and the impact a company can have on society and the environment combine. British businessman John Elkington summed up the idea with his concept of the “triple bottom line”: people, planet, profit.
Most companies have also chosen to align their CSR policies with the UN’s sustainable development goals. It’s their way of contributing to the global effort and aligning their impact with a global movement.
The challenges of sustainable development
Changing the way we think about progress, that’s essentially the idea behind sustainable development. In the early 19th century, there were around 900 million people on Earth. In 2020, there were 7.8 billion. By 2100, most conservative projections put that figure at around 10 billion. But the planet hasn’t grown accordingly. Population growth has been accompanied by an explosion in needs and ever-greater exploitation of resources. But “progress” hasn’t been the same for everyone. Inequalities have widened to the point where, today, 80% of natural resources are consumed by just 20% of the world’s population.
The whole purpose of sustainable development is to change how we think about progress, to see it not just in purely economic terms, but also in environmental and social terms – progress that benefits everyone, everywhere, now and in the future. We’re facing unprecedented challenges, including the intensification of extreme climate phenomena, rapid loss of biodiversity, accentuation of inequalities, and all the ensuing global and local crises that come with them. The idea of one generation's responsibility to the next has also had a major impact on people’s consciousness. It’s no longer possible to contemplate our present well-being without wondering whether our children will be able to enjoy the same privileges.
The UN lays out a number of key principles that cut through the challenges of sustainable development:
- Humanity: eradicating poverty and hunger in all their forms, while ensuring that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignified and equal conditions, and in a healthy environment.
- The planet: combating the degradation of ecosystems, going back to sustainable consumption and production habits, ensuring the sustainable management of our natural resources and taking urgent action to combat climate change, in order to meet the needs of current and future generations.
- Prosperity: ensuring that all human beings enjoy a prosperous and fulfilling life and that economic, social and technological progress takes place in harmony with nature.
- Peace: fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies, free from fear and violence. Indeed, there can be no sustainable development without peace, and no peace without sustainable development.
Klorane Botanical Foundation is committed to sustainable development
For Klorane Botanical Foundation, taking action on sustainable development means being consistent in our commitment to plant biodiversity, an essential component of the ecosystems that support life on Earth. Our efforts contribute to achieving United Nations goal number 15 on land biodiversity, but they also have a much wider impact, touching on all the pillars of sustainable development.
We’ve chosen to take this approach because it’s in our DNA. Born out of Pierre Fabre’s passion for botany, Pierre Fabre Laboratories have always valued plants and their benefits. Klorane Botanical Foundation (our corporate foundation) helps us express this commitment to nature in a tangible way as we implement a range of ways to preserve plant species and biodiversity, whether through conservation, exploration or raising awareness.
Although our focus is on plants, our projects have an impact far beyond the strict preservation of biodiversity itself. Among our core activities, our investment in the Great Green Wall Project in the Sahel region of Africa is a good example of how sustainable development goals are all interconnected.
In this desert region, local populations are at the mercy of advancing desertification. This phenomenon – amplified by climate change – is threatening their way of life on every level. Soil impoverishment, lack of access to drinking water and deforestation are all making this part of the world increasingly uninhabitable. By replanting trees, a whole environmental, economic and social chain is set in motion. The trees gradually rebuild vegetation cover that captures carbon and restores ecosystems and the water cycle. As a result, local people can once again meet their basic needs, particularly through sustainable agriculture.
Our ambition in the Sahel is threefold: to rebuild the vegetation fabric, to provide local people with a sustainable and renewable source of food, and to help them develop long-term sources of income and employment. Even though the goal is to help the environment, the Great Green Wall Project also supports social, inclusive and economic solutions. And it’s an initiative that provides the perfect opportunity to develop environmental awareness and knowledge that can be passed down to future generations. For its educational impact, the Great Green Wall has been recognised by UNESCO as a flagship example of education on sustainable development as part of the international “UNESCO Green Citizens” programme.
The three pillars of sustainable development
Environment, economy and society – sustainable development is about much more than you might think. Find out more with Klorane Botanical Foundation.