Last edited 07 Jul 2016

Sustainable development

Resolution 42/187 of the United Nations General Assembly, published in 1987, defines sustainable development as, 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.

The UK Sustainable Development Strategy 'Securing the future: delivering UK sustainable development strategy' published in 2005, proposed five guiding principles of sustainable development:

  • Living within environmental limits.
  • Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society.
  • Achieving a sustainable economy.
  • Promoting good governance.
  • Using sound science responsibly.

In the strategy, the then Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn MP, said “Sustainable development is about much more than just bringing the environment into development. If things are going to change, what we need is not abstract notions, nor doom and gloom, but practical, effective and above all fair principles for the sound management of the planet. Because development that's sustainable has to work for the poor as well as for the planet”.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in 2012 sets out government planning policy for England. In the Foreword to the NPPF, the then Minister for Panning, Greg Clark MP suggests that:

  • 'Sustainable' means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don't mean worse lives for future generations.
  • 'Development' means growth.

The NPPF makes clear that, 'the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development' and that development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay, that is, a presumption in favour of sustainable development should be '…a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking'.

It proposes that the planning system has to perform three mutually dependent roles in relation to sustainable development:

  • Economic: 'contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure.'
  • Social: 'supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community's needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being.'
  • Environmental: 'contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.'

It suggests that pursuing sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements, including:

  • Making it easier for jobs to be created in cities, towns and villages.
  • Moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature.
  • Replacing poor design with better design.
  • Improving the conditions in which people live, work, travel and take leisure.
  • Widening the choice of high quality homes.

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