The Three Dimensions of Sustainable Development

Due to the fact that a synergy is sought of these different implications, it has been commonly accepted that sustainable development consists of three dimensions:

Sustainable development calls for a long-term structural strategy for the world's economic and social systems, which aims to reduce the burden on the environment and on natural resources to a permanently viable level, while still maintaining economic growth and social cohesion. Only development that manages to balance these three dimensions can be sustained in the long term. Conversely, ignoring one of the three aspects could potentially endanger the success of the entire development process.

The three dimensions of sustainable development:

  • Social solidarity: equality of opportunities for people, involving welfare, quality of life and sustainable human development –development should liberate individual capacities and fulfil human needs, thus ending poverty and improving individuals' quality of life offering a secure life with full rights and liberties in the long term - and social cohesion.
  • Environmental responsibility: the ability to use natural resources without undermining the equilibrium and integrity of ecosystems, reduce burden on the environment.
  • Economic efficiency: efficiency of economic and technological activities, foster investment and productivity, economic growth, economic output potential.

Look at the three dimensions of sustainability by clicking on the animation on the right:

Although it is also useful as an analytical and public policy tool, the concept of sustainable development has other strategic aspects that are relevant to its application, such as a society's cultural specificities, political institutions or democratic participation. Moreover, it must be conceptualised within a world that is undergoing a process of termglobalisation and which has been deeply transformed by the economic, political, social and technological changes that have characterised the past twenty years.

Within a holistic vision of development, sustainable development is an equilibrium of its environmental, social and economic dimensions; this implies the adoption of a termtransdisciplinary approach, characterised by a dialogue between the technical, natural and social sciences, as well as a sectoral interaction between public bodies, private individuals and organisations from civil society. In many cases, different stakeholders have diverging understandings of sustainable development according to their own particular interests and ideologies, and thus the objectives of each dimension can conflict in certain areas.

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