Sustainable Development And its growth


Sustainable Development is a modern fashionable phrase which is frequently used in social, economic, scientific, legal, business and political circles. The critics of the phrase aver that the term ‘sustainable development’ is not capable of any precise, succinct or final meaning of universal acceptance. It conveys different meanings to different people. An environmentalist would interpret it as ample heritage for future generations. A legal scholar would describe it as balanced synthesis of environmental and developmental imperatives. An economist would view it as economic growth which can be sustained for generations. A businessman might interpret it as sustainable profits. Politicians find their vote bank in the phrase and adopt it in their election campaign.

Sustainable Development is the process in which development can be sustained for generations. It means improving the quality of human life while at same time living in harmony with nature and maintaining the carrying capacity of the lift supporting eco-system. Development means increasing the society’s ability to meet human needs. Economic growth is an important component but cannot be a goal in itself. The real aim must be to improve the quality of human existence to ensure people to enjoy long, healthy and fulfilling lives.

The concept of sustainable development has in the past most often been broken out into three constituent parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and socio-political sustainability. More recently, it has been suggested that a more consistent analytical breakdown is to distinguish four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. This is consistent with the UCLG move to make 'culture' the fourth domain of sustainability.

Sustainable development focuses at integration of development and environmental imperatives. It modifies the previously unqualified development concept. To be sustainable, development must possess both economic and ecological sustainability. In a nutshell, the concept of Sustainable development indicates the way in which development planning should be approached.

Brief History 

The idea of sustainability came out of the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which was the first UN meeting that discussed the preservation and enhancement of the environment. It proclaimed that, "The protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue which affects the well-being of peoples and economic development throughout the world; it is the urgent desire of the peoples of the whole world and the duty of all Governments."

The concept of sustainable use of earth’s resources is an ancient one. Without the principles of sustainability as a way of life, humans would not have survived in the twentieth century. The principle of sustainable development received impetus with the adoption of Stockholm Declaration in 1972, World Conservation Union (IUCN) with the advice and assistance of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Charter for Nature of 1982, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development under the chairmanship of Geo Harlem Brundtland (Brundtland Report), Our Common Future of 1987, the document Caring for the Earth : A strategy for the Sustainable Living developed by the second world conservation project comprised of the representatives of the IUCN, UNEP and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. The concept of sustainable development is the foundation stone of the Montreal Protocol for the Protection of Ozone Layer of 1987 and the instruments adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (World Summit) held at Rio in 1992.


The Brundtland Report defines, ‘sustainable development’ as ‘development that meets the need of the present generation without compromising on the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.’ The report emphasizes that sustainable development means integration of economics and ecology in decision making at all levels.

The Caring for the Earth document defines ‘sustainability’ as ‘a characteristic or state that can be maintained indefinitely’ whereas ‘development’ is defined ‘as the increasing capacity to meet human needs and to improve the quality of human life.’ This means that sustainable development would imply improving the quality of human life within the carrying capacity of the supporting ecosystems.

The concept of sustainable development rejects the old notion that development and environment are synthesis of each other. Both are complimentary are mutually supportive. 

Sustainable Development And International Law

International Law is an increasingly important mechanism in the quest for sustainable development. International customary law as well as conventional law contains provisions which deals with the protection and promotion of the environment. The maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum laedas insists on the use of property in such a manner so as not to injure another’s property. The maxim requires that developmental activities should take place in such a manner that property of others is not damaged.

In 1972, the UN Conference on Human Environment was held at Stockholm where a wide range of resolutions were adopted which formed an action plan for international co-operation on environmental matters. It produced Stockholm Declaration consisting of 26 principles which opened the floodgates for subsequent developments in the area of environmental protection. The United Nation Environmental Programme was also established under the auspices of the Stockholm Conference. The conference agenda was divided into six main areas. Development and environment appears as the fifth main area of the conference agenda. The Conference was also witnessed, at initial stages, confrontation between developing and developed states over the impact of environmental protection and development. However, the confrontation was later reconciled. It was recognized that the new international environmental order could be erected only on the foundation of international co-operation. The Conference projected the fact that the precondition for building new international environmental order is international co-operation and not confrontation. This led to the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration which makes references to development and environment.

To achieve sustainability, the Vienna Convention to Prevent the depletion of Ozone Layer was adopted which served as a framework convention and laid down broad guidelines. The Convention was followed by Montreal Protocol which came up in 1987. The protocol witnessed various adjustments and amendments from time to time. These instruments aim at restricting and regulating developmental activities in a manner that ozone depleting substances are gradually phased out.

In June 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held at Rio de Genero wherein more than 170 governments participated. UNCED’s mission was to put the world on a path of sustainable development which aims at meeting the needs of the present without compromising on the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. UNCED heralded a new global commitment to sustainable development premised on the interconnectedness of human activity and the environment. UNCED produced five documents, viz. Rio Declaration on Environment and Declaration, Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Bio- Diversity, Forest Principles and Agenda 21. In addition, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development was also established.


Events & agreements

A number of media outlets reported lacklustre progress on many of the Summit’s central themes. Despite this, the United Nations highlighted several of the Summit’s achievements. (Note that a variety of outcomes are listed, from invaluable and precise, to speculative and vague.)

Water and Sanitation

1. Commitment to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to sanitation by 2015.

2. The United States announced $970 million in investments over the next three years on water and sanitation projects.

3. The European Union announced the “Water for Life” initiative that seeks to engage partners to meet water and sanitation goals, primarily in Africa and Central Asia. The Asia Development Bank provided a $5 million grant to UN Habitat and $500 million in fast-track credit for the Water for Asian Cities Programme.

4. Twenty-one other water and sanitation initiatives with at least $20 million in extra resources.


1. Commitment to increase access to modern energy services, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable energy.

2. To phase out, where appropriate, energy subsidies.

3. To support the NEPAD objective of ensuring access to energy for at least 35% of Africa’s population within 20 years.

4. The nine major electricity companies of the E7 signed a range of agreements with the UN to facilitate technical cooperation for sustainable energy projects in developing countries.

5. The European Union announced a $700 million partnership initiative on energy and the United States announced that it would invest up to $43 million for the initiative in 2003.

6. The South African energy utility Eskom announced a partnership to extend modern energy services to neighbouring countries.

7. Thirty-two partnership submissions for energy projects with at least $26 million in resources.


1. Commitment that by 2020, chemicals should be used and produced in ways that do not harm human health and the environment.

2. To enhance cooperation to reduce air pollution.

3. To improve developing countries’ access to environmentally sound alternatives to ozone depleting chemicals by 2010.

4. The United States announced their commitment to spend $2.3 billion through 2003 on health, some of which was earmarked earlier for the Global Fund.

5. Sixteen partnership submissions for health projects with $3 million in resources.


1. The GEF will consider the Convention to Combat Desertification as a focal area for funding.

2. Development of food security strategies for Africa by 2005.

3. The United States will invest $90 million in 2003 for sustainable agriculture programs.

4. Seventeen partnership submissions with at least $2 million in additional resources.

Bio Diversity and Ecosystem Management

1. Commitment to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010.

2. Reverse the current trend in natural resource degradation.

3. Restore fisheries to their maximum sustainable yields by 2015.

4. Establish a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012.

5. Improve developing countries’ access to environmentally sound alternatives to ozone depleting chemicals by 2010.

6. Undertake initiatives by 2004 to implement the Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land Based Sources of Pollution.

7. Thirty-two partnership initiatives with $100 million in resources.

8. The United States has announced $53 million for forests in 2002-2005.

Other Issues

1. Recognition that opening access to markets is a key to development for many countries.

2. Support the phase out of all forms of export subsidies.

3. Commitment to establish a 10-year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production.

4. Commitment to actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability.

5. Commitments to develop and strengthen a range of activities to improve preparedness and response for natural disasters.

6. Agreement to the replenishment of the Global Environment Facility, with a total of $3 billion ($2.92 billion announced pre-Summit and $80 million added by EU in Johannesburg).

Three Pillars: Approaches to Sustainability

Economic: Encouraging economic development and infrastructure also increases the capacity for change.

This approach asserts that the economically powerful developed world will invest in environmental protection, whereas developing countries must devote their energies elsewhere. Simply put, the poor can’t afford to share the costly interests of a healthy environment; surviving is enough of a task for many.


1. The Group of 77 (G77) developing countries has often supported this approach arguing that only when they ‘catch up’ to the developed world will they be able to participate in initiatives such as environmental protection and pollution reduction.

2. Business leaders are likely to support this approach arguing that increased trade and commerce is the most efficient way to achieve development and thereby a capacity for environmental responsibility.

Environment: Concrete prescriptions, rules, and enforcement must curb environmental degradation.

This approach asserts that traditional development methods have created critical problems for the survival of humans and the planet.


1. The European Union has sponsored this approach calling for definitive action such as the targets laid out in the Kyoto Protocol.

2. Environmentalists largely favour this approach since it targets environmental destruction first and foremost.

Social Justice: Sustainable development is about protecting the environment as well as economic and social justice.

This approach asserts that economic capacity and ecological stability play into a larger sphere of interests. Human life requires a combination of these entities but also social stability, security, and equality.


1. Norway, Canada, and Japan have set their agendas based on some form of this combination.

2. NGOs representing women’s or human rights groups favour this approach since it addresses a wider range of issues affecting social development.


Indian Judiciary has demonstrated exemplary activism to implement the mandate of sustainable development. In the past, Indian Courts did not refer expressly to sustainable development but implicitly gave effect to it. In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of UP[3], the SC was faced with the problem of the mining activities in the limestone quarries in Dehradun-Mussoorie area. This was the first case of its kind in the country involving issues related to environment and ecological balance and brought into sharp focus, the conflict between development and conservation. In this case, SC emphasised the need for reconciling development and conservation in the largest interest of the country. This exercise was done by the Himanchal Pradesh HC in Kinkri Devi v. State[4] and also in General Public of Spoon Valley v. State.[5]

In Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum v. UOI[6], it was found that a number of tanneries in Tamil Nadu discharged untreated effluents into agricultural fields, roadsides, water-ways and open lands. The untreated effluents were  finally discharged into river which was the main source of water supply to the residents. The SC held that the concept of ‘Sustainable Development’ was accepted as a part of the customary international law to strike a balance between ecology and development. It was further held that the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’ constituted essential features of ‘sustainable development’. Justice Kuldip Singh referred to the environmental principles of the international environmental law and stated that the ‘precautionary principle’, ‘polluter pays principle’ and the special concept of onus of proof have merged and governs the law of our country, As is clear from Articles 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the constitution and that in fact various environmental statutes incorporate these concepts impliedly. In view of the constitutional and statutory provisions, the SC held that the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’ are a part of the Indian Environmental Law.

Moreover, SC also directed the Central Government to establish an authority under Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act 1986. The authority so established shall implement the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’. Hon’Ble Justice also criticized the in action of the Central Government to establish such and authority and also observed that an authority headed by a retired judge of the High Court and an expert in the field of environmental protection must be constituted. Since then, Government has issued notifications for the establishment of an authority and for environment impact assessment.

In A.P. Pollution Control Board v. MY Nayadu[7], the SC affirmed that the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’ are a part of the Indian Environmental Law. This case involves the grant of consent by the pollution board for setting up an industry by the respondent company for the manufacturing of hydrogenated castor oil. The categorization of the industry in the red, orange and green was made and the respondent industry was included in the red category. The company applied for seeking clearance to set up the unit under Section 25 of the Water (Prevention Control of Pollution) Act. The board rejected the application for the consent on the ground that the unit was a polluting unit and would result in the discharge of solid waste containing nickel, a heavy metal and also hazardous waste under Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 1989. The respondent company appealed under Section 28 of the Water (Prevention Control of Pollution) Act. The appellate Authority decided that the respondent industry was not a polluting industry and directed the Board to give its consent for establishment of the respondent industry on such conditions as the board may deem fit. In writ petition filed in the HC, the division bench directed the Board to grant consent subjected to such condition as might be imposed by the board. It was against the said judgement that the Pollution Control Board filled various appeals in SC. The SC discussed the evolution of the principle ‘precautionary principle’ and explained its meaning in detail.

The SC expressed approval of the Vellore judgement and treated “precautionary principle” as a part of Indian Environmental Law.

The above quoted judgements have significant impact on the specialised environmental legislations in India. The judgements are a pointer for Pollution Control Board to grant consent for setting up industrial units on the basis of the ‘precautionary principle’.



Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges faced by humanity. As early as the 1970s, "sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems." Ecologists have pointed to the time of growth, and presented the alternative of a "steady state economy" in order to address environmental concerns.

The concept of sustainable development has in the past most often been broken out into three constituent parts: environmental sustainability, Economic sustainibility and socio political sustainability. More recently, it has been suggested that a more consistent analytical breakdown is to distinguish four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. This is consistent with the UCLG move to make 'culture' the fourth domain of sustainability. Other important sources refer to the fourth domain as 'institutional' or as 'good governance.' 

Realization of sustainable development and sustainable production and meeting the related requirements cause massive challenges for the manufacturing industry. The motivation for this study was the assumption that better understanding of the different aspects of sustainable development helps the companies to adapt more sustainable practices. The paper presents a literature review on sustainable development and production with practices related to the respective topics and then summarizes a study conducted within Finnish manufacturing industry. The results in this study are presented in a framework consisting of six categories. For each category the challenges, means and motivation for realization and objectives are presented. The obtained results provide further and in depth information of sustainable development and sustainable production within the Finnish manufacturing industry for both the industry and academia.

[3] AIR 1985 SC 652

[4] AIR 1987 HP 4

[5] AIR 1993 HP 52

[6] AIR 1996 SC 2715

[7] AIR 1999 SC 812


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Ankit Kr Mishra 
on 26 December 2013
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