The world advanced to this point because of the industrial revolution. Ever since we witnessed climate change, poverty, and habitat destruction before our eyes, we realized our need for sustainability. So, in the previous decades, we initiated various sustainable development examples to better coexist with the planet.
This article briefly examines the history of sustainable development and eight sustainable development examples. We will also discuss sustainable development goals and why they exist.
Related Read: What is Sustainable Living?
Sustainable development is a broad term referring to policies, projects, and investments that provide economic development without jeopardizing future generations' environment, social, and physical health. The main focus is to reduce the impact of development on the environment.
We arrived at sustainable development after we realized the terrible effects of the industrial revolution on the planet. Several ecological and economic disasters occurred in the 19th century and led to the clamoring for a more sustainable model of industrialization.
Some disasters include the American banking crisis in 1907, the Torrey Canyon oil spill in 1957, and the Erikka disaster in 1999.
Sustainable development was first coined worldwide after a UN Environment and Development meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The premises of the meeting were based on the 1987 report of Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.
In her report, she gave an official definition of sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The creation of sustainable development made the world aware of the impending doom if we continue to use resources in ways that harm the environment. As threats of climate change and global warming become apparent, world leaders developed sustainable development goals (SDGs). These goals aim to transform the world by reducing energy consumption and the impact of cities on the environment.
Here are eight sustainable development examples you may have heard or even experienced in the recent years:
Sustainable manufacturing refers to product creation with manufacturing processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve natural resources and energy, and are safe for employees, communities, and consumers. A lot of the damage to the environment is from manufacturing.
However, businesses want to make sustainability a crucial objective in their business strategy and operation. Many manufacturers are making sustainability their watchword to reduce costs and waste, thus increasing their operational efficiency. They also practice sustainability to strengthen their brand's reputation and build long-term business success.
Manufacturers engage in sustainable development practices by using innovation and strategic analysis to address sustainability in a coordinated, integrated, and formal manner. They also combine sustainability with all their business functions.
This sustainable development example will help protect the environment and boost the economy. It creates new jobs with good working conditions. It also encourages innovations, efficient use of resources, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Manufacturers now use eco-friendly and biodegradable materials for production. Essentially, sustainable manufacturing promotes a closed-loop economy.
Renewable energy is one of the more well-known examples of sustainable development. Also known as clean energy, it is power produced by natural sources that constantly replenishes.
It is an excellent example of sustainable development because we harness plentiful natural resources. Moreover, using these resources to generate energy doesn't harm the environment like energy from non-renewable resources.
Here are the different types of renewable energy we use today:
Wind energy is from the kinetic energy of moving air. We harness wind energy with large wind turbines located on land or in the ocean. Wind turbines are technology we got from improving the structure of good old windmills used to harvest wind power in the 18th/19th century.
As the wind blows against the wind turbines, they generate electricity we can use for various activities. However, the wind power gained from harnessing wind energy varies by location. The best place to get enough wind power is by setting up turbines in sea or freshwater locations, i.e., offshore.
Read more: Environmental Impact of Wind Energy.
The sun is a major energy source. We harness this endless solar energy source with solar panels. Studies show that we get more energy from the sun in an hour than the energy used by the world in a year1.
Solar panels are made from silicon and other materials that can transform sunlight into electricity. They can power homes, schools, and communities. Solar power is an excellent example of sustainable development because it provides safe energy consumption.
It doesn't release carbon emissions like when we harness energy from fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources don't cause air pollution, thus saving the environment and promoting energy efficiency.
Read more: Environmental Impact of Solar Energy.
The environmental impact of industrial agriculture damages a lot of ecosystems. These damages include soil erosion, groundwater pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and poor working conditions of farm workers.
Since we depend on agriculture for food, the negative impacts of industrial agriculture make our survival difficult. So, we need to practice sustainable farming to get food without causing harm to the environment.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, sustainable agriculture is farming methods that protect the environment, expand natural resources, and use non-renewable resources adequately.
Eco-friendly agricultural practice focuses on systems that improve soil fertility and reduce emissions and energy consumption. It also focuses on improving animal welfare and encouraging biodiversity.
Crop rotation is one way to promote sustainable agriculture. This method improves soil quality by reducing fertilizer usage, thus restoring the lost nutrients and improving local biodiversity. Other eco-friendly agricultural practices are hydroponics and permaculture.
Proper waste management and recycling are among the most common examples of sustainable development. Implementing recycling and correct waste disposal by consumers and manufacturers gives us a lot of environmental benefits.
Human activities produce enormous amounts of waste in the environment, and we only recycle a small quantity of waste products. We dump the majority of the waste products in landfills. Improper waste management causes air and soil pollution and global warming.
The benefits we gain from implementing the four R's of managing waste include the prevention of global warming, a cleaner environment, and a circular economy. The four R's are refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Furthermore, developing sustainable materials prevents waste throughout a product's lifecycle. It starts from the extraction of raw materials to the end-of-life management of the product. It also supports the conversion of waste into green energy, improving energy production and efficiency.
Now, let’s visit the construction industry. Sustainable urban design, also known as sustainable construction, is an effort to create safer and greener structures in an urban environment.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainable construction as creating structures and using environmentally responsible and resource-efficient processes throughout a building's lifecycle. It covers the lifecycle of the project: planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.
This sustainable method involves using recycled and renewable building materials for construction, which helps improve energy efficiency during construction.
Read more: Natural Building - Eco-Friendly Materials & Techniques & our guide to sustainable urban development and planning.
While the previous example of sustainable development focuses on structure, green space is about open spaces in urban areas., such as foliage-filled public parks and recreation areas.
Data says more than two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities2. It will be crowded with buildings and infrastructures to support the people, and nature needs more space to grow and thrive.
We can improve air quality by having more green spaces full of trees. Aside from producing oxygen, trees regulate rainwater by filtering out pollutants.
Addressing the urban island heat effect is also vital. This phenomenon refers to the trapped heat generated by human activities, specifically roads and other concrete structures. By adding green rooftops, people can save the energy used for cooling.
Green spaces in urban regions could be parks, community gardens, or rooftop gardens. These spaces help us control insects and improve biodiversity. They will also enhance the quality of living.
Read more: How Nature Benefits Mental Health.
Water is an essential part of life that some don't have access to. We use a lot of water to ensure cleanliness in our daily lives, i.e., washing dishes, clothes, and hands, showering, and sewage movement.
Millions of people use water for these activities daily, and it drains our water sources faster than it can replenish itself, especially during the dry season, thus the need for water conservation.
Installing efficient water fixtures is one of the simplest ways to conserve this vital resource. These water fixtures include low-flow taps and shower heads, sinks with auto-shutoff mechanisms, and water-saving toilets.
Read more: How to Reduce Water Waste at Home?
Sustainable forestry is managing forests to meet society's current needs and desires while preserving forest resources. We achieve sustainable development of forests by considering the economic, social, and ecological aspects of sustaining a forest. The three ways to manage forests are preservation, rehabilitation, and reforestation techniques.
Preservation allows us to take necessary precautions to protect our forests from destruction, while rehabilitation and reforestation refer to replanting and replacing a lost forest ecosystem. By sustainably managing our forests, we'll have cleaner air. More trees will grow, and they'll capture carbon and clear air pollution from the atmosphere.
Also, there will be a reduction in the loss of biodiversity because the environment supports their ecosystem. Sustainable forest management will reduce flooding because trees are a barrier to water streams. Thus slowing them down.
Another example of sustainable forest management techniques is selective logging to prevent excessive deforestation. There's also controlled burn and treatment of tree diseases, providing better water quality for humans and wildlife.
Sustainable development goals (SDGs) are a call to action to end poverty and inequality, protect the planet, and ensure people enjoy good health, justice, and prosperity. In a nutshell, SDGs aim to change the world without leaving anyone behind.
In 2015, all member countries of the United Nations decided to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. All the examples of sustainable development above are aligned with this plan.
17 interconnected goals balance economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Here are the 17 SDGs that need global attention and action:
The extraction and usage of raw materials like fossil fuels and poor waste disposal methods are the major contributors to the environmental decline. However, examples of sustainable development have shown that we can get essential services in environmentally friendly ways.
For instance, renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions by providing sustainable energy. Green spaces bring nature closer to people living in cities. It also protects biodiversity. Crop rotation protects soil health and improves agricultural produce, while sustainable manufacturing uses more recycled materials.
Other sustainable development examples include sustainable concrete and mobility, efficient lighting, and green tourism.
Lewis, N. S., & Nocera, D. G. (2006). Powering the planet: Chemical challenges in solar energy utilization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(43), 15729–15735.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.
Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.