The concept of sustainability or sustainable development has become a universally accepted foundation for countries around the world when they contend with environmental problems.
It was put forward, with the leadership of then Norwegian Prime Minister, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development and was presented for the first time through the Commission’s 1987 report, Our Common Future.
Its strict definition is . . . “a development which responds to the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations to respond to their needs.”
In practical terms, though, it means trying to strike a balance between economic and social progress without endangering the ecological balance of the planet, this balance being considered as a heritage for our children.
Methods of production and consumption must be kind to the human and natural environment and enable everyone on the planet to fulfill their basic need for: food, home, clothing, education, work, and living in a healthy environment.
Sustainable development calls for a change in the habits of every one of us (citizens, companies, local governments, national governments, international bodies) in light of the dangers facing humanity and our planet (social inequalities, industrial and health risks, climate changes, reduced biodiversity, emissions of greenhouse gases, etc.).
It begins with the analysis of the life cycle of each product and/or practice and takes into account all of the impacts (environmental, economic and social) that a product or service will have throughout its life cycle.
The cycle for all of these includes extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, packaging and distribution, consumption, and end of life. Life cycle thinking is an essential concept for implementing sustainable development. When applied to product design, production processes and decision-making, life cycle thinking leads engineers and designers toward a “cradle-to-cradle” approach rather than “cradle to grave”.
When successful, this approach considers and plans for the optimal use of resources (water, wood, fossils fuels, etc.) and energy consumption (in manufacturing, packaging, distribution including transportation to shops), but also landfill sites or other facilities for recycling and, finally, greenhouse gas creation in transportation or other processes.
This is simply the “tip of the sustainability iceberg” and clearly an enormous task, but it is indeed where true sustainable product success lies. It is the way we must proceed if we plan to preserve the environment.
Vice President – Supply Chain / Sustainabilty
Reclipse Group, Inc.