A look at the ideas behind this concept
The official definition in the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report ‘Our Common Future’ states that:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.
Let me pause here and examine an assumption raised by this definition. In one of the two key concepts put forward, the environment is limited in its ability to provide for the needs of the present and future. That is, resources on earth are finite. This assumes that the idea of resources is a zero-sum game, in the sense that one person’s gain is another’s (in this case, the environment’s) loss.
However, is this really the case?