Sustainability is the ability to meet our needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, social and economic resources are also needed.
While the concept of sustainability is relatively new, the movement as a whole has its roots in social justice, conservationism, internationalism, and other movements of the past. In the end of the twentieth century, many of these ideas culminated in the so-called “sustainable development”.
In 1983, the United Nations chose former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to head the new World Commission on Environment and Development. After decades of efforts to improve living standards through industrialization, many countries still dealt with extreme poverty. It seemed that economic development at the expense of ecological health and social equity did not result in lasting prosperity. It became clear that the world needed to find a way to harmonize ecology with prosperity. After four years, the so-called “Brundtland Commission” released its final report, “Our Common Future”, which warned of the negative environmental consequences of economic development and globalization and offered solutions to problems arising from industrialization and population growth, and define sustainable development as:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs while ensuring a balance between economic growth, care for the environment and social welfare,
in Brundtland Report, 1987.
Environmental: natural resources are preserved and managed, especially those that are not renewable or are fundamental to life support. It requires actions to minimize negative impacts on air, water and soil, preserve biodiversity, protect and improve the quality of the environment and promote responsible production and consumption.
Social: human rights and equal opportunities for all individuals in society are respected. A fairer society is promoted, with social inclusion and equitable distribution of goods with a focus on eliminating poverty.
The cultural diversity of local communities is recognized and respected and any form of exploitation is avoided.
Economic: prosperity at different levels of society and the efficiency of economic activity. It also refers to the viability of organizations and their activities in generating wealth and promoting quality employment.
The concept of sustainable development has thus been assumed by a diverse set of organizations, governments, NGOs, companies, public and private, and society in general. In the case of companies, the increasing movement of corporate sustainability resulted initially from the emergence of new legal requirements entailing financial costs, and later on awareness and recognition that the integration of environmental and social aspects into decision-making can result in new business opportunities and have a direct impact on the creation of economic value.
Business sustainability is thus a company’s ability to manage its activity and create long-term value while creating social and environmental benefits for its stakeholders.