Science for Sustainable Development

Science is an effective process that we use to help us understand the world. By making testable predictions and then observing what actually happens, we are able to explain the underlying systems of nature with increasingly accurate models. We can then use these models and explanations to help us predict the likely effects of our choices so that we Wind Turbinecan make our decisions wisely. Technology continues to enhance our ability to understand the world by improving our ability to accurately monitor natural events. It is also crucial in sustainable development when we become more resource-efficient by finding ways to improve our quality of life while at the same time reducing the amount of resources we use in providing these new goods and services.

Perhaps nowhere is science and technology more important than in relation to the Earth’s carrying capacity. Carrying capacity refers to the number of people that our planet’s resources can support with our currently implemented technology and can be increased by using our resources more efficiently with improved technology. By understanding and monitoring the natural processes that affect the carrying capacity, science and technology can provide the information needed for environmentally sound development. It can help us imagine more options for environment and development choices in the decision-making process. In order to fulfill the promise of this key area, it can be helpful to develop understanding of key environmental science topics. This will improve long-term scientific assessments, help support sustainable development, and ensure that science is responsive to our emerging needs.


Help support the scientific basis for sustainable management

It takes different levels of planning when we consider building a treehouse, a single-family home, or a high-rise skyscraper. As the project complexity and the potential impact to those around it increases, it becomes essential to accurately understand how it will impact others both today and in the future. Similarly, as our modern human society becomes more complex, acquiring a realistic long-term perspective will help ensure that our current development is successful. Just as a single skyscraper is built successfully by involving scientists and engineers, so too can our development as a whole benefit from incorporating the scientific process and body of knowledge.



  • What is your recipe for a better life — a good education, clean air, nice home, money? See how your country measures up on the topics important to you with OECD’s Better Life Index tool. This interactive system will allow you to compare nations based on quality of life indicators like health, education, and social welfare. You can also investigate your area’s OECD Regional Well Being score. For another perspective that factors in both well-being and environmental impact, take a look at the Happy Planet Index.
  • How does your lifestyle depend upon healthy global ecosystems? Trace some of the products in your life back to when they were natural resources. Where was the food grown? Where were your home’s building materials harvested from? What type of fuel powers your electricity and where was that fuel extracted from? Which of these processes are sustainable?
  • How does your consumption relate to the Earth’s carrying capacity? Explore how scientists measure ecological footprints and use this interactive tool to calculate your personal footprint.Footprint_Game


  • Do you enjoy discussing ideas with others? Consider joining or creating a community group that meets regularly to discuss current events and recent trends from a scientific perspective. Be sure to announce the topic well in advance so that everyone has time to consider and research it. Maybe there’s someone local with advanced knowledge of the topic that you could invite to add an experienced voice to the discussion. With different views present, remaining positive and civil is essential; perhaps a formal pledge will help keep the conversation constructive, such as what The Coffee Party created.
  • Interested in reducing your personal ecological footprint with the support of a group? Spread the word around your community to get a few friends together and try facilitating your own simplicity circle.
  • Are you a member of any religious or spiritual communities? If so, you could organize a group of those interested in sharing their thoughts about the ethical and moral aspects of sustainability.

Developing a scientific understanding of the total environment

Understanding the complex natural systems that govern our world and how human activities may impact them is very beneficial for people interested in sustainable development. Never before have humans had the opportunity to develop such a comprehensive scientific look at the total environment. Due to the rapid pace of technology improvements, our ability to monitor and analyze vast amounts of environmental data has been steadily increasing and now offers humanity our best chance of predicting the long-term global effects of our decisions based on a detailed scientific understanding of the total environment.



Meeting scientific research needs in the environment/development field is only the first step in the support that the sciences can provide for the sustainable development process. The knowledge acquired may then be used to provide scientific assessments (audits) of the current status and for a range of possible future conditions. Although many of the long-term environmental changes that are likely to affect people and the biosphere are global in scale, key changes can often be made at the individual and local levels.

Ideas for those interested in implementation

  • Coordinate existing data and statistics gathering systems relevant to developmental and environmental issues so as to support preparation of long-term scientific assessments; apply the data obtained to local environment/development assessments; and demonstrate the wide distribution of the assessments in a form that is responsive to public needs and can be widely understood
  • Create or assist existing programs to carry out individual and local audits that can help to refine the pattern and character of development, examining in particular the capacities of global and regional life-supporting systems to meet the needs of human and non-human life forms and identifying areas and resources vulnerable to further degradation


In view of the increasing role the sciences have to play in dealing with the issues of environment and development, it is beneficial to build up scientific capacity and help support such capacity in all communities to enable them to participate fully in the generation and application of the results of scientific research and development concerning sustainable development. Some of the most important ways to build up scientific and technological capacity are: education in science and technology; assistance to developing communities to improve infrastructures for research and development which could enable scientists to work more productively; create incentives to demonstrate research and development; and greater utilization of their results in the productive sectors of the economy. Such capacity-building would also form the basis for improving public awareness and understanding of the sciences.

Ideas for those interested in implementation

  • Demonstrate the education of scientists, not only in their disciplines but also in their ability to identify, manage and incorporate environmental considerations into research and development projects; ensure that a sound base in natural systems, ecology and resource management is provided
  • Help support the scientific infrastructure in schools, universities and research institutions by the provision of adequate scientific equipment and access to current scientific literature, for the purpose of achieving and sustaining a key mass of highly qualified scientists in these communities
  • Collect, process and disseminate information from regional scientific programs; expand activities to reduce information barriers due to language differences
  • Support partnerships among individual and local capacities to demonstrate the full and open exchange of scientific and technological data and information and to facilitate technical assistance related to environmentally sound and sustainable development
  • Compile, analyze and publish information on indigenous environmental and developmental knowledge, and assist the communities that possess such knowledge to benefit from them

People's Agenda 21, Ideas for the betterment of humanity, serving the highest good of all