"Sustainable development must be the context for provincial development strategies."
--Towards 2000 Together (1993)
"Make sustainable development a fundamental value in the way we govern and conduct our everyday lives."
--Priority One, identified by the Future Environmental Directions for Alberta Task Force (1995)
Sounds good, doesn't it? But if someone were to ask you what sustainable development really means, would you have an answer? Does it have some substantive meaning, or is it just some sort of techno-speak that bureaucrats, the media, and technical experts use to keep you and I in the dark?
For many people across Canada, sustainable development implies a goal that should be sought by forward-thinking societies attempting to bring opposing interests together. In Alberta, government consultations through this decade, including the two quoted above, have produced consensus positions that sustainable development is an important consideration that should be built into public and private sector decision-making and actions. But does anyone really know what it means in the Canadian or Albertan context?
What is sustainable development?
Many people understand that sustainable development has something to do with environmental matters; some also make a link with economic matters and conservation of resources. However, there is no universal definition. The term sustainable development originated with the World Commission on Environment and Development, more commonly known as the Brundtland Commission. That Commission was established by the United Nations as an independent body charged with examining the world's environmental and development problems and making proposals to solve those problems. Its report, titled Our Common Future, was published in 1987, and it is from that report that sustainable development as a term and a concept arises.
The definition of sustainable development that is most commonly found, in its original form and variations, is set out by the Brundtland Commission. It states, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This definition involves two common elements.
The first is equity between the present and future generations with respect to resource use. This is understood to imply careful and well-considered current use of resources, particularly the non-renewable, to ensure continued availability...