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Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility: Future Mapping

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The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held at Stockholm in 1972, was the first major international discussion of environmental issues. The meeting marked a polarization between the priorities of economic growth and environmental protection. This polarization has dominated the debate between rich and poor countries and between interest groups within countries for many years and – given the results of the Kyoto Climate Conference in December 1997 – is still not fully resolved.

There are legitimate reasons for different perceptions of sustainable development and hence political priorities. Although the most significant ecological issues are of truly global importance, industrial and developing countries still have different problems. For the majority of the people affected by environmental problems in developing countries, lack of sanitation and sewage facilities, polluted drinking water, urban air pollution, shrinking water resources, and eroding topsoil are the most pressing problems. In industrial countries, where such problems have mainly been solved, the public focuses instead on issues such as depletion of the ozone layer as well as the accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its potential impact on climatic change.

Sustainable development seems to be something like motherhood and apple pie - everyone finds it a good thing, there is almost universal appreciation. At first sight, this is highly positive, as this could signal the entering of a holistic and responsible thinking into the world of politics and society. But as it often happens with other catch phrases that suddenly come into vogue, like “empowerment” and “participation”, it might not be more than a rhetoric which fails to translate into practice, this all the more so because sustainable development can be given several different interpretations.

The earliest concept emphasized the need for economic development to be compatible with constraints set by the natural environment, one which satisfies the needs of the present generations without putting in jeopardy the satisfaction of needs of the future. More recently, it has also been stressed that economic development should be compatible with political and social institutions. So a holistic concept of sustainable development has emerged in which economic, ecological, social and political factors need to be simultaneously considered. Participation by individuals, particularly at the community level, is seen as an important means for achieving sustainable development and formulating development goals.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2008

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