Nowadays, sustainable development is often depicted schematically using three circles for the target dimensions of environment, economy and society, to which are added the time and north-south dimensions.
The diagram illustrates that:
- Economic, social and environmental processes are interlinked. Public and private agents alike cannot be permitted to act one-dimensionally and in isolation. Instead, their actions must take into account the interplay between the three dimensions of environment, economy and society.
- Sustainable development goes beyond environmental conservation. In order to satisfy our material and immaterial needs, we require economic prosperity and solidarity in our society.
- The implications for the future of the actions of today must be factored in (the intergenerational aspect) so that future generations are also able to satisfy their needs.
- Sustainable development calls for long-term structural change in our economic and social systems, with the aim of reducing the consumption of the environment and resources to a permanently affordable level, while maintaining economic output potential and social cohesion.
- Global interdependencies must also be considered (the north/south aspect). From the environmental standpoint, the current lifestyle in industrialized and more and more also in emerging countries cannot be spread around the globe. Sustainable development aims to bring about a long-term improvement in the quality of life of the majority of the human race, which lives in bitter poverty and inhuman conditions.