What is Sustainable Development (SD) ?

What is Sustainable Development (SD) ?

"Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." - Our common future, 1987.

The International Association of Universities (IAU) embraces this definition, given by Gro Harlem Brundtland’s, in the report Our common future, 1987, which targets a continuing use of natural resources while ensuring the protection of biodiversity. 

Today the concept of sustainable development has been extended beyond environmental considerations to the notion of « human sustainable development » thus positioning human beings at the center of the preoccupations in between the economic, politic, social and cultural pillars.

The role of Higher Education towards Sustainable Development (HESD)

"(Higher) Education is no longer preparation for an assumed stable future but a nurturing of individual and collective potential to live well and skillfully in an already complex and volatile world, towards human and planetary betterment." Steven Sterling, Professor of Sustainability Education, Centre for Sustainable Futures, Plymouth University, UK - Special Advisor on ESD


Sustainable Development has been on the agenda of many Higher Education and Research institutions even before the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN-DESD) started.

IAU has been working on the topic since the early 90’s when the IAU Kyoto Declaration on Sustainable Development was created. More than 20 years have passed since, and neither IAU nor other organisations have been standing still to promote sustainable development, with the result that in 2015 the 2030 Development Agenda was adopted.

Although Higher Education and Research is only mentioned briefly in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG-4), the key role HE and research does and can play to address all 17 SDGs needs to be stressed continuously.

Higher Education’s role lays in disciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching and research, in the development of new and innovative approaches to global, regional and local issues. It calls for strong national and international teaching and research cooperation that can help identify new solutions to new and older problems. The 2030 Development Agenda and 17 associated goals call for a whole of institution approach and a more holistic approach to issues networked at different institutional, inter institutional and global levels.

Summarization of overall goal of Education for Sustainable Development according to UNESCO: provide everyone with the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future

The partnership and network approach is being privileged world round to achieve the SDGs and the challenges for the 2030 Development Agenda.