We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy
What is sustainable development
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The concept of sustainable development can be interpreted in many different ways, but at its core is an approach to development that looks to balance different, and often competing, needs against an awareness of the environmental, social and economic limitations we face as a society.
All too often, development is driven by one particular need, without fully considering the wider or future impacts. We are already seeing the damage this kind of approach can cause, from large-scale financial crises caused by irresponsible banking, to changes in global climate resulting from our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy sources. The longer we pursue unsustainable development, the more frequent and severe its consequences are likely to become, which is why we need to take action now.
So is it all just about the environment?
Living within our environmental limits is one of the central principles of sustainable development. One implication of not doing so is climate change.
But the focus of sustainable development is far broader than just the environment. It's also about ensuring a strong, healthy and just society. This means meeting the diverse needs of all people in existing and future communities, promoting personal wellbeing, social cohesion and inclusion, and creating equal opportunity.
If sustainable development focuses on the future, does that mean we lose out now?
Not necessarily. Sustainable development is about finding better ways of doing things, both for the future and the present. We might need to change the way we work and live now, but this doesn't mean our quality of life will be reduced.
A sustainable development approach can bring many benefits in the short to medium term, for example:
Savings - As a result of SDC scrutiny, government has saved over £60m by improving efficiency across its estate.
Health & Transport - Instead of driving, switching to walking or cycling for short journeys will save you money, improve your health and is often just as quick and convenient.
How does it affect me?
The way we approach development affects everyone. The impacts of our decisions as a society have very real consequences for people's lives. Poor planning of communities, for example, reduces the quality of life for the people who live in them. (Relying on imports rather than growing food locally puts the UK at risk of food shortages.)
Sustainable development provides an approach to making better decisions on the issues that affect all of our lives. By incorporating health plans into the planning of new communities, for instance, we can ensure that residents have easy access to healthcare and leisure facilities. (By encouraging more sustainable food supply chains, we can ensure the UK has enough food for the long-term future.)
How do we make it happen?
We all have a part to play. Small actions, taken collectively, can add up to real change. However, to achieve sustainability in the UK, we believe the Government needs to take the lead. The SDC's job is to help make this happen, and we do it through a mixture of scrutiny, advice and building organisational capacity for sustainable development.