A sustainable development is a development that contributes in a positive way to the ‘3Ps’: Prosperity, People, and Planet. In this chapter, we reinterpret the 3Ps as three essential ‘Capitals’: Manufactured and Financial Capital, Human and Social Capital, and Natural Capital. Capitals are stocks: resources that can be conserved, built-up or drawn down. Nations differ in the demands they make on Natural Capital, in their ability to access Social and Financial Capital and in their capacity to build stocks of Manufactured and Financial Capital. The three capitals are not independent entities. Sustainable development is a systems problem. Actions intended to support one capital can undermine another. The challenge in planning a development is to find a path that supports all three. In reality, this means prioritizing the targets and opting for a strategy that does the best it can for the top priorities while minimizing collateral damage elsewhere.
Michael F. Ashby, Chapter 3 - What is a ‘Sustainable Development’?, Editor(s): Michael F. Ashby, Materials and Sustainable Development (Second Edition), Butterworth-Heinemann, 2022, Pages 51-68, ISBN 9780323983617.,