When I first got interested in sustainability, one of the simplest and most empowering definitions I ran across was from the Brundtland Commission Report, “Our Common Future,” published in 1987. The full report is available on-line. The definition reads:”Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Found in Chapter 2 of the report.)
I am thrilled to see that my alma mater, University of Virginia School of Architecture, is bestowing the University’s highest honor on the commission’s chairwoman, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. As part of the award ceremonies for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, she will speak on the campus on Friday, April 11, at 3:00p.m.
Her bio is impressive. She has long been a world leader in sustainable development and health, and was the youngest and first woman prime minister of Norway. The University of Virginia’s press release has a good overview.
It is striking that the ideas and recommendations contained in “Our Common Future” are just as relevant today as they were – twenty! – years ago. They were truly ahead of their time, although leading scientists and experts knew then what the rest of us are only now waking up to. Rather than fret about “it’s too late,” we should all re-read this powerful document and renew our commitment to doing what we can.
It’s full of thoughts like these (remember – written twenty years ago!): “But the Commission’s hope for the future is conditional on decisive political action now to begin managing environmental resources to ensure both sustainable human progress and human survival. We are not forecasting a future; we are serving a notice – an urgent notice based on the latest and best scientific evidence – that the time has come to take the decisions needed to secure the resources to sustain this and coming generations. We do not offer a detailed blueprint for action, but instead a pathway by which the peoples of the world may enlarge their spheres of cooperation.” (Introduction, “From One Earth to One World)
This reminds me of the World’s Scientists Warning to Humanity, which apparently came out to great fanfare in other industrialized countries, but we heard barely a peep about it here in the U.S. This came out in November of 1992. Those of us who have been waiting for proof should look no further: The warning comes complete with a sobering list of what we must do, now, and who needs to help (quick summary: everyone).
Congratulations to both Dr. Brundtland and the University of Virginia School of Architecture.