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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110 Fax: 020 7405 4967

Delivering Sustainable Development


This Policy Position Statement discusses a range of issues concerned with the practicalities of delivering Sustainable Development

CIWEM calls for:

  1. The UK Government to clearly demonstrate that it is delivering against its 2005 sustainable development strategy (which CIWEM welcomes and endorses), with all Government departments placing sustainable development at the heart of their operations.
  2. The wider incorporation of environmental costs into the prices of all commodities in order to send a clear price signal to consumers regarding the wider impacts of items they buy.
  3. Efforts to simplify and aid the application of the wide range of sustainability assessment methodologies currently employed by environmental and other professionals.
  4. The UK Government to work with other governments to find ways to allow poorer countries to more efficiently undergo or where possible skip phases of development which historically have involved significant levels of environmental damage.

CIWEM will:

  1. Continue to develop an environmental management system in accordance with the ISO14001 standard to measure the Institution's own environmental performance and set targets for continual improvement.
  2. Actively encourage its members to practice good environmental principles both professionally and personally.
  3. Lobby Government and other bodies to improve their sustainable development performance in line with strategies and frameworks such as Securing the Future, One Planet Living and the Five Capitals model.
  4. Work to develop a routemap which summarises and provides guidance on optimum use of the wide range of sustainability methodology currently in existence.
  5. Work towards a carbon neutral operation in its internal and external processes.

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is the leading professional body for the people who plan, protect and care for the environment and its resources, providing educational opportunities, independent information to the public and advice to government. Members in 96 countries include scientists, engineers, ecologists and students.


The most widely accepted formulation of the concept of sustainable development is that of the Brundtland Commissioni which states that:  "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The 2005 UK Government Sustainable Strategy, Securing the Futureii , further defines that "the goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations".  In the UK "that goal will be pursued in an integrated way through a sustainable, innovative and productive economy that delivers high levels of employment; and a just society that promotes social inclusion, sustainable communities and personal wellbeing. This will be done in ways that protect the physical and natural environment, and use resources and energy as efficiently as possible".

There are many other definitions of sustainable development, however the majority contain common elements.  These are the advancement of social, environmental and economic goals in a manner which provides for human needs now but without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.

Planetary resources are being consumed at a rate that is the highest in human history. As the world population continues to grow we can no longer ignore the increasing stress we are placing on our planet's natural resources and environmental systems, such as water, land and air. The impairment of these systems means that we can no longer rely on their life support and pollution removal services unless the environmental impacts of our actions are dramatically reduced. We are faced with a changing climate, depleted resources, widespread pollution and loss of habitats and biodiversity. It is imperative that our society recognises and learns to live within the limits of the planet's ecosystems and there is a need to engage the whole of our society more vigorously in facing up to this challenge and in making the significant changes required.  CIWEM's PPS on 'Living Within Environmental Limits' discusses this in greater detail.

Sir Jonathan Porritt, Chairman of the UK's Sustainable Development Commission, asks: "can we reach that point in our evolutionary history where we start to live sustainably on this Planet before we inflict irreversible damage on the life-support systems that sustain us? Or will we remain hell-bent on testing those systems to destruction (and beyond)?"iii

Key Issues

Achieving sustainable development is a monumental challenge which requires action, and therefore cooperation on many levels, including individually and globally.  It requires that we live today in a manner which does not jeopardise future generations ability to do the same.  This is a long way from where mankind sits at present, and much evidence suggests that there is very little time to make these changes and meet these challenges.

In delivering sustainable development, the UK needs to lead by example.  CIWEM concurs with a general consensus that sustainable development will require, broadly, actions including:

  • The promotion of innovation to support more sustainable production.
  • Encouraging consumers and organisations to avoid purchasing high material- and energy-intensive goods and services.
  • Environmental damage costs to be internalised using financial instruments. This requires the introduction of widespread economic measures, such as taxes, to provide a financial incentive to reduce pollution, the use of energy and other natural resources.  Consideration on environmental costs (and benefits) should also be encouraged at all levels of policy and project appraisal.
  • An accelerated and determined global programme of greenhouse gas emission reductions, with targets set to avoid significant climate change.
  • The promotion of sustainable modes of transport and reduction of the need to travel by private car or airplane.
  • An increase in energy efficiency with the establishment and regular review of challenging standards to reduce energy demand.
  • A significant increase in the use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.
  • The minimisation of waste production, promotion by Government of re-use and recycling and increasingly stringent requirements for producer responsibility in dealing with waste materials.
  • The protection of natural resources and the promotion of environmental enhancement and biodiversity.
  • The creation of sustainable  communities at a local level enabling people to work closer to their homes to reduce transport costs and associated environmental impacts.
  • Widespread environmental education including increasing the emphasis on sustainability issues within the primary and secondary school curricula and particularly within management programmes at tertiary level and with employees.
  • An open discussion on the issues surrounding population growth and the impacts of this on achieving sustainable development.


Much of the activities required to deliver sustainable development are set out in the United Nations' Agenda 21 programmeiv. This is a detailed, 40-chapter plan of action, targeted at all groups whose activities impact on the environment.  The underlying principle is that action on sustainable development must take place at all levels of society from the individual level to the international level.

Agenda 21, along with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Developmentv (which set out 27 principles relating to sustainable development) and the Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.  The UN established the Commission on Sustainable Development later that year to further the agreements of the conference and monitor progress against them.

In the UK, the Government formed the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) to act as an independent champion for action, which would also monitor and report on the performance of government and other appropriate parties in delivering sustainable development.

The SDC's 'Progress 2004' sets out 20 challenges to government to meet sustainable development, including:
- All government departments to embed Sustainable Development at the centre of their goals, objectives and practices, giving a clear and consistent lead to other members of society;
- SD embedded in cross-departmental processes;
- Government to make clear to business the need for sustainable methods of operation;
- Government to build public awareness of major environmental problems and introduce taxes or other financial instruments to encourage a change in behaviour; 
- Ensure that sustainability plays a central role in managing all areas of the economy;
- Set demanding targets and timetables for moving to sustainable products and production processes; and
- Encourage more sustainable food consumption.

'Securing the Future', produced in 2005, sets out in detail many measures through which Government intends to deliver sustainable development.  Many address the recommendations by the SDC and the document contains clear recognition of the problems, the extent of the challenge and the responsibility Government has to deliver and inspire solutions.

BioRegional and WWFvi have developed the One Planet Living initiative which sets out 10 principles of sustainable development, and aims to promote the concept of one planet living through promotion, education and best practice demonstration of its principles in communities:

  1. Zero Carbon
  2. Zero Waste
  3. Sustainable Transport
  4. Local and Sustainable Materials
  5. Local and Sustainable Food
  6. Sustainable Water
  7. Natural Habitats and Wildlife
  8. Culture & Heritage
  9. Equity & Fair Trade
  10. Health & Happiness

Forum for the Future has devised a model which sets out the five 'Capitals' which are required for a healthy society (natural, human, social, manufactured and financial), and around them set out twelve key features of a sustainable societyvii.

Initiatives such as these go a long way to aiding the understanding of what is required in a sustainable society.  However, the delivery of these requirements within a modern (democratic) political system is difficult as many of the actions required involve constraints on modern 'western' lifestyles and consumption behaviour. These constraints are unlikely to be popular with voters and thus must be approached carefully and sensitively by Government.  This challenge is exacerbated by, as evidence suggests, the lack of time available to make the required modifications to our lifestyles before irreversible damage is done to the earth life support systems and before the central aim of sustainable development (of ensuring future generations are able to meet their needs) becomes an impossibility.

There is an increasing appreciation amongst the environment profession and other areas of business and government as to what sustainable development is and requires in terms of action.  However, delivery of sustainability in practice is proving complex and there is a plethora of methodologies utilised by environmental professionals and others for assessment and delivery of sustainability criteria within all manner of projects,  This is a potentially confusing state of affairs and it is important for the delivery of sustainable development that its definitions and components are clear and simple to understand by the widest audience, as a fundamental rule of the principle of sustainable development is that it will only be achieved through the actions of all members of society.

September 2008

Note: CIWEM Policy Position Statements (PPS) represent the Institution's views on issues at a particular point in time. It is accepted that situations change as research provides new evidence. It should be understood, therefore, that CIWEM PPS's are under constant review, and that previously-held views may alter and lead to revised PPS's.

i Our Common Future, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987
ii Securing the Future - UK Government sustainable development strategy.  March 2005
iii Progress: Sustainable Development Commission Critique 2004
v Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Annex 1: Rio Devlaration on Environment and Development.  United Nations, 1992


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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110 Fax: 020 7405 4967

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