Module 1: Basics

“What pleases me most is that sustainable development is on almost everybody’s agenda now.”

– Maurice Strong

Evolving Demands and Expectations

Shortly after World War II, there was a shortage of consumer goods because most resources were used to produce war materials. When the war was over, everyone wanted a car, a refrigerator, and many other household goods that were not available during the war years.

At that time, companies’ primary role was to produce goods and services that consumers wanted. There was limited consideration of their role beyond that function. Organizations were deemed to be legitimate on the basis of the economic benefits they provided, and and society granted organizations what is called a social license to operate.

Later in the 1960s and 1970s, our world population continued to grow. As a consequence, the impact of global corporations satisfying our demands became greater. We became concerned about more than just obtaining goods and services. Society expected goods that were

  • economically beneficial;
  • socially acceptable; and
  • environmentally responsible.

As organizations took on these increased demands, they first needed to determine how to improve performance and then to report on their improvement activities in a credible understandable manner. Therefore, this module covers the basic aspects of sustainability performance and reporting. If you are familiar with the concept of sustainability but less familiar with sustainability reporting, you may choose to start this module at the point where the two concepts are linked.

Who motivated the environmental movement?

In 1962, Rachel Carson finished writing her book called Silent Spring. She is often credited with initiating the environmental movement. However, many individuals promoted environmental awareness at the time.

Carson wrote about the detrimental effects of pollution and pesticides. Her work was instrumental in banning the use of DDT in the United States in 1972, primarily because of the harmful effect of this chemical to birds.

Source of Picture: Amazon.com

Who carried on the environmental movement and integrated the social?

In 1983 the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) to address both human degradation and deteriorating environment conditions. The document that emerged from the Commission was published in 1987 and is referred to as the Brundtland Report or Our Common Future. It is named after the Commission’s Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The Commission recognized that finding solutions to our problems requires all nations to work together toward sustainable development. Sustainable development was defined as

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

  • “needs” refers to the basic necessities of the world’s poor;
  • “limitations” refers the earth’s resources as finite.

In 1992 the first international Earth Summit followed the WCED. Because it was held in held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was called the Rio Earth Summit. The heads of state accomplished the following:

  • signed the Convention on Climate Change;
  • signed the Convention on Biological Diversity;
  • endorsed the Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles; and
  • adopted Agenda 21, a plan for implementing the concept of sustainable development.

The Commission on Sustainable Development was created to monitor and report on the results.