[BLOG] Why we need to care about Sustainable Development.

by Dejan Bojanic

 twitter @bojandejanic

Sustainability is everywhere.

Used to describe anything from agriculture and economic growth to the tuna on your frozen pizza, it’s a term that has been exploding since the 1980s. We are bombarded with shiny green sustainability labels, aimed at reassuring us that no tree or panda bear were harmed in the making of the product in our hands. You would therefore be forgiven for thinking that ‘sustainable’ is simply a synonym for ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’. In fact, aside from the idea of durability and lasting for a period of time, there is not a universal understanding of what it actually means. So how can we explain ‘sustainable development’ and why does it matter?

Chart showing use of "sustainable development" term since 1980s
Chart showing use of "sustainable development" term (Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer)


Here comes the technical part....

There is no getting away from the fact that sustainable development is complex. Perhaps the most common and well used definition of sustainable development is the one used by the UN, describing it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

At its core, its about finding a balance between three dimensions: society, environment and economy. This is why sustainable development is often depicted in a Venn diagramme -  showing how closely interrelated they actually are. Think about it. The way we produce and consume (economy) affects both the way we live together (society) and our natural ecosystems (environment).  Whatever way you look at it, they all influence each other. As ecological economist Herman Daly put it: "what use is a sawmill without a forest?". 

Venn chart
Source: The Ecologist


Still not convinced?

If this still seems very abstract, here’s something we’re all familiar with: a doughnut. Sustainable development is vision for society in which the needs and rights of all are met within the means of the planet - the safe and just space for humanity in the doughnut. In other words, sustainable development means that everyone, including future generations, are able to fulfil their needs and realise their rights, while ensuring that this does not overshoot Earth’s natural resources and fundamental life-supporting systems such as a stable climate and fertile soils.

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist Book by Kate Raworth

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
Book by Kate Raworth


Why it is not working….

The problem: currently, we are far off track. The centerpiece of the story is economic growth. We are living in a world now with unprecedented material wealth. But not without serious side effects. Most indicators measuring the health of our planet show a negative trend: climate change, biodiversity loss, acidification of the oceans and shrinking freshwater resources. Trust and social cohesion in society is deteriorating and inequality has been on the rise for decades. In doughnut-terms, we are now overshooting the ecological ceiling while we are still falling short of guaranteeing the social foundation to everyone.  

The question for the 21st century is clear: how do we get into the doughnut? There are sadly no easy answers. The work on sustainable development requires continuous exploration and  jumping into deep waters. Our task is to collectively find new ways of organising our economies and societies in a more doughnut-friendly way. 

Get ready!

Over the coming two weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the things that need to change for a sustainable future and the role of young people in the process. We will run a series of blogs focusing on issues such as inequality, decent jobs and the future of work, environmental sustainability, democratic participation and how to measure progress.

Read our other blogs here:

Not another “AAAH! Robots are stealing our jobs!!!” article

It's an Unequal World. But does it need to be?

Life in plastic - is it really so fantastic?


Follow #ChangetheGame for the next part of the story!

About Dejan Bojanic, Vice-President of the European Youth Forum

In addition to his involvement in the European Youth Forum, Dejan manages international partnerships and advocacy for the youth branch of the charity Save the Children in Sweden. Between 2012 and 2016 Dejan was in the youth advocacy group for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Global Education First Initiative and he currently sits as an expert in the European Commission's Multi-stakeholder Platform on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in the European Union where he is representing the European Youth Forum.

Forbes magazine named Dejan one of the most influential Europeans under the age of 30 for “championing Europeans’ rights and their political movements”.

Need to get in touch?

General phone line: +32 2 793 75 20
fax: +32 2 893 25 80
e-mail: youthforum@youthforum.org
Rue de l’Industrie, 10
1000 Brussels

More information here.