The Brundtland definition of sustainability is ‘Development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Sustainability is embedded within governments around the world and also within institutions such as the United Nations, who exert significant influence in shaping environmental policy and governance. Sustainability is increasingly relevant in a business context, both as a driver for performance improvement, stakeholder communication and as one of the principal originators in shaping the framework of existing and planned environmental law.

It was not until 1987 that the concept of sustainability gained a permanent foothold at an international level, through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system, acting as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment. To accomplish this, UNEP works with a wide range of partners, including United Nations entities, international organisations, national governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society.

The EU Sustainable Development Strategy is an overarching approach that aims to ensure that the original Brundtland definition of sustainability is applied for all EU policies.

Applying the principles of sustainability to a business has significant benefits:

• Avoiding penalties by complying with legislation.
• Using raw materials more efficiently.
• Minimising waste.
• Reducing insurance risks.

Engagement with communities, supply chain and customers reaps many benefits. A sustainable business is good for its stakeholders, and will enjoy a better reputation. Sustainable business involves taking a long-term approach – first steps can involve improving resource efficiency and modifying business practices to reduce or manage their environmental impacts. Being sustainable can also offer a competitive advantage in many markets – for example, selling a product which uses less energy whilst still meeting consumer needs.