The article 'Growth and Emergence of Sustainable Development' is a profound study of the meaning, history, international law, world summit on sustainable development, and three pillars of sustainable development.

The article 'Growth and Emergence of Sustainable Development' is a profound study of the meaning, history, international law, world summit on sustainable development, and three pillars of sustainable development. The article intensively describes the situations which created awareness to protect the environment and led to various conferences and seminars for effective output. The author feels that every individual needs to take steps in order to promote sustainable development.


Sustainable Development is the idea of using resources efficiently, so as to save them for future generations, so their needs are not compromised. Sustainable Development is an approach to economic development without interfering with the quality of the environment for future generations. The concept of sustainable development was introduced because, only development without sustainable means was causing environmental degradation in many forms, such as soil erosion, land degradation, air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, etc.

The cause of these is a population explosion, rise in economic activity, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and increased use of insecticides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc. Hence, to overcome these problems and consequences sustainable means were introduced like the use of wind energy, solar energy, crop rotation, sustainable construction, efficient water fixtures, green space, sustainable forestry, organic farming, etc.

The goals of sustainable development are to support such development that minimizes environmental problems and to meet the needs of the existing generation without compromising the quality of the environment for future generations. We can achieve such goals by restricting human activities that cause various types of environmental pollution and environmental degradation, by keeping in tune the rate of consumption with the rate of salvation, use of renewable sources of energy, the rate of use of renewable energy should not surpass the rate of production of renewable energy, etc.

Brief History

The term 'sustainable development' was first used in the year 1980 in the World Conservation Strategy held under the aegis of the International Union for Conservation and Development. The term was then popularized by the study of the World Commission on the Environment and Development, also known as Our Common Future (1987), commonly known as the Brundtland Report.

Utilitarian resource management also called the technocratic notion of sustained yield, is the idea of sustainability. However, the industrial revolution was also one of the primary reasons that led to the adaptation of sustainable development. In the late 1900s, industrial and economic activities had an adverse effect on the social balance of the environment. Several social incidents that disturbed the ecological balance became an eye-opener and raised awareness to adopt a more sustainable model. The following are the incidents that shook the globe:

1. 1907- the American banking crisis

2. 1923- the crisis of American hyperinflation

3. 1929- the financial crisis of the 1930s begins

4. 1968- the worldwide protests against bureaucratic elites

5. 1973 and 1979- oil shocks

6. 1982- the debt shock of developing countries

Also, the following are some examples of ecological crises:

1. 1954 - Rongelap nuclear fallout

2. 1956 - Mercury crisis of Minamata

3. 1957 - Torrey Canyon oil spill

4.1976 - Seveso disaster

5.1984 - Bhopal disaster

6.1986 - Chernobyl nuclear disaster

7.1989 - Exxon Valdez oil spill

8.1999 - Erika disaster

In 1968 Garret Hardin, philosopher and ecologist argued in his work titled the tragedy of the commons that

"if individuals act independently, rationally, and focused on pursuing their individual interests, they'd end up going against the common interests of their communities and exhaust the planet's natural resources"

He had the thought process that "since man is compelled to procreate unlimitedly the Earth's resources would eventually get overexploited." He believed that man needed to radically amend the way of living and using resources, to save them for the future.

A few years after in 1972, 'Meadows et al.', which was commissioned by the 'Club of Rome', ran a computer experiment which aimed to achieve the correct predictions of the consequences of what might happen on such a planet which has to survive with limited resources.

The experiment analysed the interactions amongst 5 dimensions – world population growth, pollution generation, industrialization, and non-renewable resource depletion, food production, considering that each of them would exponentially grow whereas technology's ability to increase the production of resources was only linear.

The strongest conclusion of the experiment was an economic and social collapse, which has the highest chance of happening by the end of the 21st century if man continued in the same way as he was back then. After more than 4 decades, these predictions seem to be right when it comes to pollution and its consequences threatening sustainable development.

In 1972, the UN Conference on the environment took place in Stockholm, it was the first world big leaders meeting that was organized by the UN. It aimed to discuss the impact of the use of resources by human beings on the environment and also how it is affecting economic development. Another goal of this gathering was to find a common outlook and principles to inspire and direct a way to the world's population in order to preserve the "human environment".


The official definition of sustainable development was developed for the first time in the Brundtland Report in 1987. It said,

"the human ability to ensure that the current development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

It was the first widely accepted definition of sustainable development.

In other words, when human beings strive for enhanced life conditions without diminishing the meaning of life itself - namely our children's future - we call this development sustainable.

UNESCO promotes international resource development which is 'socially desirable', 'economically viable', 'culturally appropriate' and 'ecologically sustainable'.

According to the three-pillar approach of sustainability, sustainable development is often thought to have three components: environment, society, and economy. The well-being of these three areas is intertwined, not separate.

Sustainable Development and International Law

United Nations has developed 17 goals of sustainable development, that shall aim at transforming our world. The calls all the nations, whether rich, poor, or middle income, to act on this subject. It says that while achieving prosperity, the countries shall aim at also protecting the planet. The goals are:

1. No poverty

2. Zero hunger

3. Good health and well being

4. Quality Education

5. Gender equality

6. Clean water and sanitization

7. Affordable and clean

8. Decent work and economic growth

9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

10. Reduced Inequalities

11. Sustainable cities and community

12. Responsible Consumption and Production

13. Climate change

14. Life below water

15. Life on land

16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions

17. Partnerships: revitalization of global partnerships.

World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg Summit) 2002 Highlights

This summit took place on 26 August-4 September 2002 in Johannesburg. More than 100 members were part of this conference. The conference led to the adoption of a Political Declaration and Implementation Plan, that aimed at achieving development that includes respect for the environment.

In the area of water:

The Plan of Implementation encouraged partnerships between the public and private sectors based on regulatory frameworks established by governments.

In the area of energy:

The need to diversify the energy supply was highlighted, as well as the need to add renewable energy sources to the global energy supply.

In the area of health:

the commitments made in the fight against HIV/AIDS were reaffirmed and the emphasis was placed on the right of States to interpret the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in order to promote universal access to medicines.

In the area of agriculture:

Comprehensive negotiations on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture were envisaged and these included market access and the reduction of export subsidies.

In the area of biodiversity:

the Plan of Implementation called for the establishment of an international regime to ensure a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

The summit also led to the adoption of 57/253 general assembly resolution.

Three Pillars: Approaches to Sustainability

The three pillars of the approach to sustainability are economic, environmental, and social. To be more specific they are economic viability, environmental protection, and social equity.

Economic Sustainability:

Economic sustainability promotes such techniques by which long-term economic growth can be easily achieved without negatively hampering the environmental, social, and cultural fields of the atmosphere. Economic sustainability is a key factor of sustainable development, so it's important to list some of its basic fundamentals of economic sustainability:

1. It's important to find effective solutions for the world's hunger and poverty by using environmentally efficient ways;

2. It's also important to study and regulate how societies use their resources (water, air, fuel, food, etc.) and when it is mixed with the aspect of sustainable development, it shall focus on improving economic growth that is not only sustainable and but also simultaneously improves the quality of environment and life, we strive for;

3. Economic sustainability is further categorized into 3 general categories to enshrine sustainable growth, that are values, valuation, policy instruments, poverty, and environment.

As far as the job market is concerned, which is the other important aspect of economic sustainability, research shows that high rates of employment benefit both the economy and the people's social well-being. This way people can use such a lifestyle that may be expensive but environmentally sustainable.

Social Sustainability:

It is a kind of social responsibility that is to be kept in mind when a community's both components i.e. stable and unstable, need a revival of depleted resources. It ends the diversion of the design of the physical environment and the social environment, uniting them, further focusing on the requirements of the diversified sections of society, and emphasizing giving the appropriate infrastructure and much-needed support to the weaker section of the society. It is another variable that is involved in understanding the aspect of sustainable development, it's key fundamentals are as follows:

1. Systematic community participation

2. Strong civil society, including government

3. Commonly accepted standards of honesty (tolerance, compassion, forbearance, love)

4. Gender equality

Environmental Sustainability:

Environmental sustainability emphasizes the betterment and well-being of the environment. It includes air quality, water quality, and diminishing environmental stressors, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Human health revolves largely around the quality of the environment in which the person lives, and it inextricably links human health and the quality of the environment. Henceforth, the efforts to replenish the environment directly affect the people, i.e., they are able to live a better life, in a better environment.

Environmental sustainability aids all the other two. For example, natural resources are necessary to foster economic sustainability. Moreover, the efforts to use such resources that are sustainable for the environment will also provide economic sustainability because this ensures the availability of resources for a long time.

Another aspect apart from the three-pillar approach includes culture, it is said to be one of the main components of the concept of sustainable development apart from the above three.


Adopting sustainable development is the need of the hour. If not done, it will result in the end of non-renewable resources. The 7 R's approach, that re-think, refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, and rot should be strictly followed.

Joe Kaeser has rightly said,

"Sustainability is not just about adopting the latest energy-efficient technologies or turning to renewable sources of power. Sustainability is the responsibility of every individual every day. It is about changing our behaviour and mindset to reduce power and water consumption, thereby helping to control emissions and pollution levels."


1. Concept of Sustainable Growth and Development, Available Here

2. Definitions Sustainable Development, Available Here

3. World Summit on Sustainable Development, Available Here

4. Concept of Sustainable Development, Available Here

5. What are the three pillars of sustainability?, Available Here

Important Links

Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary, and Entrance Exams

Law Aspirants: Ultimate Test Prep Destination

Sukriti Verma

Sukriti Verma

Sukriti Verma is a Law Student at VIPS, New Delhi. She has published several articles and papers under her name and has interned dedicatedly at various prestigious law firms. She believes learning is a life-long process.

Next Story