Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s (the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future

“Sustainable Development” is something we hear a lot these days but what does it really mean? There are various ways to define it but the term “Sustainable Development” says it all: it is DEVELOPMENT that is SUSTAINABLE. But what is “development” and how to measure it and know if it is really “sustainable”?

Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, describes Sustainable Development as a way to study how environmental, economic and social factors interact, as a way to understand the complex world in order to understand the world we’re living in and make it better. I absolutely love this very humane view on Sustainable Development.

For centuries, the way we look at development is rather one-sided. The first thing people would think of when it comes to development is wealth, GDP, and other economic indicators. What is wrong with it? It is easy to understand that more wealth, with more money you can buy more stuff, maybe have an education, which will lead to a better life, which is a development, right?

For centuries and centuries of industrialization, roads were being made, factories opened,  a whirlwind of trading came along (and still continues). People were (and still are) too crazy about making more money that they can’t seem to see (or don’t seem to care) that they are using up natural resources, cutting down trees to clear lands, dumping tons and tons of trash in the ocean, landfills, emitting billion tons of toxic gas into the air, etc. and the list goes on.

Not until people realize natural resources are limited, we are breathing in toxic molecules,  eating food poisoned with fertilizer and pesticides, discrimination, violence, injustice, etc. are rampant, not until then do people question their development. Is it really just about economic growth or there are other intangible and abstract aspects that require development also? How about societal equality? Or mental and psychological health?

Obviously, we need a more holistic and integrated approach to development,  to make sure that it is sustainable. Sustainable can be interpreted also in many ways. Recently the United Nations and the country members agreed on Sustainable Development Goals (a.k.a Global Goals) till 2030.


The Sustainable Development Goals as you can see are for all aspects of life, from education to clean energy to a partnership for the goals, which will bring us further to a better (and more sustainable) world in every way.

However, many people sadly think that it is the jobs of the UN, of their government’s development institutions, NGOs, etc. to work on Sustainable Development and how to get there. WRONG. It all starts with individual and local actions. From my opinion, international organizations and development agencies sometimes are too caught up with politics, red-tape, and paperwork. They might be great at policy-making, advocacy, vision and mission setting and all but if people do not change the way we live, there is no point setting up those policies if they aren’t in place and no one follows them.

Recently, the UN created The lazy person’s guide to saving the world which includes some very small actions and changes you can make to bring us closer to the goal. Besides changing your routines and lifestyles, people can reflect on themselves what they can do to contribute to this global movement.

If you’re a writer, write about it, share knowledge; if you are a cook, make organic, chemical-free food, talk to others about healthy food and healthy eating habits. Or simply, just be kind, be more compassionate with life and others around you. Start with yourself and inspire others around you.

I cannot claim I am an expert on development or sustainable development. I am simply a young person passionate about development work and what I am writing is just my personal opinion and from my work experience. If you wish to know more about Sustainable Development, there are many resources and researches online you can find. The UN also has a knowledge platform on Sustainable Development you can check out. And don’t forget to just take a moment to reflect on your lifestyle and your impact on the planet and the world about you.

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Posted by:Hanh Lam

I am a young Vietnamese woman with a passion for development work and social change, a desire to explore the world and a love for storytelling.

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