Many of you are probably familiar with the term Sustainable Development, but what does it actually mean?
By definition, Sustainable Development is:
Economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources.
Let’s break that definition down.
The human population on Planet Earth is growing exponentially. We’re at 7.7 BILLION people right now, and set to hit 9.7 BILLION people by the year 2050.
How do we feed, house, and take care of 2 billion more people in the next 31 years? The only possibility is through sustainable development.
In short, it’s necessary to further develop our planet in order to support so many people – but if we destroy nature entirely, then we will only survive in the short term.
We need to achieve economic development, but without destroying the foundation of life on Earth.
How Can We Accomplish Sustainable Development
Firstly, we need to properly account for the services we receive from a healthy environment. And we need to hold those who destroy nature through their business practices accountable.
We receive benefits from fully functioning natural environments which are called Ecosystem Services. And there are four types:
- Provisioning services – Any benefit we extract from nature. Ex: Food, clean water, oil.
- Regulating services – Any benefit that moderates natural phenomena. Ex: Pollination, decomposition, flood control.
- Cultural services – Any non-material benefit that contributes to the development and cultural advancement of people.
- Supporting services – Fundamental natural processes such as photosynthesis which sustain ecosystems themselves.
Unfortunately, these benefits we receive from nature aren’t always properly accounted for in economic development. This under-values the importance of healthy ecosystems.
Externalities are on the opposite end of the equation. When a businesses’ operations harm nature, we refer to the harm done as an Externality of doing business. An example would be a business which pollutes a nearby waterway as a result of its operation. Or an example on a larger scale – companies that pollute excess amounts of CO2 into our Earth’s atmosphere.
Many businesses today are not held accountable for their externalities, which harm society as a whole. The result is that their operating costs are cheaper than they really should be.
In short, to achieve sustainable development we need to value nature, and reveal the true cost of doing businesses. We cannot continue to ignore mankind’s impact on the natural world, and put our impacts off to future generations.
Learn more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals