Sustainable Development


The most frequently quoted of the many definitions of sustainable development is from Our Common Future, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development embraces the interconnected domains of the economy, society and the environment. However, discussions on sustainable development initially focused more on concerns about environmental degradation, considering all elements of the broader environment agenda – emissions into air, soil and water, resource depletion and waste management, as well as the climate change agenda – greenhouse gases, global warming.

The green economy and green jobs

All these issues have led to formulation of the concepts of the green economy and green jobs. Considerable sums, within economic stimulus packages, have been earmarked for green growth and green jobs. Policy decisions, regulations, market-based instruments and funding to address green issues are now so extensive that they have a direct effect on business decision making and affect enterprises of all sizes and sectors.

Sustainable development goals

In order to revitalize action on the world’s most pressing challenges, the UN is discussing sustainable development goals (SDGs). The outcome will impact on government priorities and hence the landscape for enterprise creation and growth.

Sustainability reporting

There is pressure to have transparent and accountable targets against which progress can be measured. Many initiatives are aimed at obliging companies to report on their social and environmental performance. These are in addition to voluntary efforts by companies and sectors to provide information to customers and other stakeholders. Recently, attempts to move towards fully integrated sustainability reporting have gained momentum.

The impact on business

This broad spectrum of work on sustainability and sustainable development is relevant for business because:

  • scientific enquiry is revealing new phenomena and impacts, innovation and technological developments are creating new products, services and businesses to respond to and manage environmental and climate change impacts,
  • Economic and legislative responses are changing the political, practical, financial and social landscapes

These are driving political agendas and the framework conditions for business operations. It is important for employers’ organisations to engage in these discussions at all levels on behalf of their members.

What the IOE does to influence developments

IOE, working with other international business organisations such as ICC and BIAC, focuses on the impact of sustainable development, climate change and environmental policies and measures on employment and social conditions and helps to ensure that policymakers have the business perspective at hand.