Quality Management and Safety Engineering (BSc) - MST 326
Sustainability, including Corporate Social Responsibility.


The World Commission on Environment and Development suggested the following definition of Sustainable Development (Brundtland Commission Report 1987) [1]:

"Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

and that it should be seen as a balance of four factors:

Triple E Triple P
Equity (social factors)People

In practice, the latter factor rarely features directly in the analysis and it is thus commonly referred to as triple bottom line accounting (3BL).  Economic factors are perhaps the most easily measured (e.g. gross domestic product or return-on-investment).  Environmental concerns can be quantified using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) although access to validated databases may not be straightforward.  The social factors are usually assessed qualitatively - Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, first presented in his book "Motivation and Personality" [2] may be a useful framework for a more quantitative analysis. As a lower need is satisfied, then other needs assume a higher priority:

Dresner [3] has presented a particularly cogent analysis:

"Conventional cost-benefit analysis appears unable to deal with the implications of thinking about sustainable development ... Basing ethical decisions on economic value seems by its nature to skew decisions so as to favour the interests of wealthy people in the present day. The interests of the poor, future generations and other species are all discounted by the approach. The problem lies not simply in the practice of cost benefit analysis, but is a really a result of the utilitarian ethical framework of mainstream economics" [page 120].

"Any operational definition of sustainability is ultimately based on more or less arbitrary decisions about the extent to which new knowledge and technology will be able to substitute for various [depleted] natural resources [in the future]. Yet it is fundamentally impossible to predict with any accuracy what future technologies will be available" [p167]. "It is reasonable to suppose that the growth model of capitalism cannot continue indefinitely" [p172].

"Sustainability is an idea which combines postmodern pessimism about the domination of nature [by mankind] with almost enlightenment optimism about the possibility to reform human institutions" [p164]. "In a world where environmental limits are already being exceeded, any movement to allow improvements in the condition of the poor majority is going to require the rich minority to reduce their consumption of environmental space still more drastically than even the need for physical sustainability would imply" [p170]. "It might not be too cynical to draw the conclusion that people are all in favour of sustainability only so long as it does not involve any personal inconvenience ... Consumerism is an addiction that most people afflicted with do not want to be cured of" [p171].

This poses the problem of measuring the "sustainability" of any particular set of circumstances. A fully Quantitative Life Cycle Analysis would address the balanced requirements arising from economic, environmental and social issues.  However, there are a diverse set of issues addressed by different bodies and no agreed weighting, such that each analyst can produce results favourable to the case they wish to make.  For example, the sources analysed in the Table below undertake very different analyses for sustainability criteria.

In March 2005, the UK Government published Securing the Future: Delivering UK Sustainable Development Strategy [4] aiming "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".  However, a key conclusion was that "if it becomes apparent that certain indicators need to be improved to ensure our monitoring is effective then if it is practicable to establish a revised indicator, we will do so. However it should be noted that there are considerable economic, statistical, scientific, and practical constraints to embarking on new data collection".

The Sustainable Development Education Working Group of the Royal Academy of Engineering has recently published Engineering for Sustainable Development: Guiding Principles [5] with Twelve Guiding Principles of Engineering for Sustainable Development:

  1. Look beyond your own locality and immediate future
  2. Innovate and be creative
  3. Seek a balanced solution
  4. Seek engagement from all stakeholders
  5. Make sure you now the needs and wants
  6. Plan and manage effectively
  7. Give sustainability the benefit of the doubt
  8. If polluters must pollute ... then they must pay as well
  9. Adopt an holistic 'cradle-to-grave' approach
  10. Do things right, having decided on the right things to do
  11. Beware cost reductions that masquerade as value engineering
  12. Practice what you preach

In the 1960s, Paul Ehrlich [6, 7] proposed a simple equation to analyse the sustainability issues:

I = C x P x T

where I represents the total environmental impact, C is the typical consumption per capita within the bounds of the study, P is the human population and T is a measure of technological environmental impact per unit of consumption.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The role business plays in creating a sustainable society is a very current issue (perhaps the fastest growing management discipline of 2007). The UK Government has an "ambitious vision for UK businesses to consider the economic, social and environmental impacts of their activities, wherever they operate in the world". They define CSR as "the business contribution to our sustainable development goals. Essentially it is about how business takes account of its economic, social and environmental impacts in the way it operates – maximising the benefits and minimising the downsides".  Their website connects to information about how they help make that vision a reality.

Since 1993, the Best Practice Club (a professional network) has been facilitating learning and shared experience opportunities to their members to identify and adopt best business practice.

Sustainability standards


  1. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (The Brundtland Report), Oxford Paperbacks, Oxford, April 1987.  ISBN 0-19-282080-X.  PU CSH Library.
  2. AH Maslow, Motivation and Personality, Harper & Row, New York, 1970. Third edition, 1987.ISBN 0-06-041987-3.  PU CSH Library.
  3. Simon Dresner, The Principles of Sustainability, Earthscan, London, 2002.  ISBN 1-85383-842-X.  Second edition, 2008. ISBN 1-84407-496-x.  PU CSH Library.
  4. Securing the Future: Delivering UK Sustainable Development Strategy, The Stationery Office, Norwich, March 2005.  ISBN 0-10-164672-0.
  5. Richard Dodds and Roger Venables, Engineering for Sustainable Development: Guiding Principles, Royal Academy of Engineering, September 2005.
    ISBN 1-903496-21-7.  PU CSH Library: 948 KB PDF format 52 page report.
  6. PR Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, Buccaneer Books, New York, 1971, ISBN 1-56849-587-0.  Pan Books, London, 1971, ISBN 0-345-02139-8 (originally published by Ballantine, New York, 1968).  PU CSH Library.
  7. PR Ehrlich and JP Holdren, Impact of population growth, Science, 26 March 1971, 171(3977), 1212-1217.

Recommended further reading for sustainable development

URLs for sustainable development

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Created by John Summerscales on 14 January 2006 (using material from earlier MST326 pages) and updated on 17-Mar-2021 0:45.
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