Sustainable development is an organising principle for human life on a finite planet. It posits a desirable future state for human societies in which living conditions and resource-use meet human needs without undermining the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that future generations may also have their needs met.
Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social and economic challenges faced by humanity. As early as the 1970s, 'sustainability' was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems." Scientists in many fields have highlighted The Limits to Growth, and economists have presented alternatives, for example a 'steady state economy', to address concerns over the impacts of expanding human development on the planet.
The term 'sustainable development' rose to significance after it was used by the Brundtland Commission in its 1987 report Our Common Future. In the report, the commission coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The concept of sustainable development has in the past most often been broken out into three constituent domains: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability. However, many other possible ways to delineate the concept have been suggested. For example, distinguishing the four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. Other important sources refer to the fourth domain as 'institutional' or as 'good governance.'