What is Sustainable Development?

What is Sustainable Development? 

The concept of sustainable development first emerged in the 1960s when environmentalists started debating on the impact of economic growth on the environment. Since then, different definitions of sustainability and sustainable development have been put forward and discussed, but the most widely adopted one was published in the report, "Our Common Future" (also known as the Brundtland Report) by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, which defined sustainable development as: 

"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." 

~Our Common Future, 1987.

Sustainable development calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet. 

For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonise three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and are all crucial for the well–being of individuals and societies.

Sustainable Development in Hong Kong

The Study on Sustainable Development for the 21st Century in Hong Kong (SUSDEV 21) was commissioned by the Government in 1997. The study was conceived in response to the need to take account of environmental and social concerns as well as economic aspects when making decisions about the future of Hong Kong.

The SUSDEV 21 study has been primarily concerned with developing a systematic process to enable Hong Kong's decision makers to take into consideration the long term implications of strategic development decisions, using a set of forward-looking sustainability indicators.

Major outputs of the study include:

  • Developed a definition of sustainable development which encapsulates the key themes and broad scope of sustainable development applicable to Hong Kong – "Sustainable development in Hong Kong balances social, economic, environmental and resource needs, both for present and future generations, simultaneously achieving a vibrant economy, social progress and a high quality environment, locally, nationally and internationally, through the efforts of the community and the Government";
  • Developed eight guiding principles representative of the key sustainable development issues in Hong Kong;
  • Developed the Computer-aided Sustainability Evaluation Tool (CASET) for conducting sustainability assessment of strategic policy and project proposals; and
  • Recommended institutional changes to help Government take better account of sustainable development issues in its decision making, including establishing the Council for Sustainable Development as well as the Sustainable Development Division (formerly known as the Sustainable Development Unit)

More information on the eight guiding principles and the sustainability assessment in Hong Kong can be found at here and here respectively. The executive summary of the SUSDEV 21 study can be found at here.

In his Policy Address in 1999, the Chief Executive set out his intention to build Hong Kong into a world-class city, and for the first time, sustainable development was put on the Government's agenda and was brought to the public's attention.

Simply put, sustainable development for Hong Kong means:

  • finding ways to increase prosperity and improve the quality of life while reducing overall pollution and waste;
  • meeting our own needs and aspirations without doing damage to the prospects of future generations; and
  • reducing the environmental burden we put on our neighbours and helping to preserve common resources.

~1999 Policy Address.

It requires full cooperation and participation of the Government and all sectors of the community to achieve full integration of the needs for economic and social development with that to conserve the environment.

To promote Sustainable Development, the followings were implemented:

Publicity and Community Education Programmes