Key concepts

Sustainable Development


Sustainable development strives to meet present needs and aspirations without sacrificing the capacity to meet those of the future.”
World Commission on Development and the Environment (Brundtland Commission), 1987

Sustainable development attempts to address five main challenges:

  • Integration of conservation and development.
  • Meeting basic human needs.
  • The achievement of equity and social justice.
  • The promotion of social self-determination and cultural diversity.
  • The maintenance of ecological integrity.

Living Earth Foundation understands sustainable development as a process that implies:

  • respect for people whose values, beliefs and traditions may be radically different from our own;
  • acceptance of social and cultural imperatives;
  • respect for biodiversity and acceptance of environmental imperatives;
  • respect for economic diversity (there is more tan one ‘correct’ pathway).

Legitimacy, Trust, Context


Legitimacy means that intentions, ideas, activities, decisions, or laws and regulations, are perceived as justified, ‘normal’, socially acceptable.

Trust: People cannot work together effectively unless a minimum degree of trust underpins their relationship. Trust, in turn, depends on the perception of legitimacy.

Context:  What can be achieved, how and with whom, depend on context.  Understanding context requires developing trust and in-depth relations with key stakeholders, in the specific geographical and social settings where the project is to be implemented. This understanding is not quickly achieved through ‘special tools’; it is developed over time, working closely with others.

Sustainable development requires engagement and cooperation among diverse social agents. Trust and legitimacy are important requirements, in developing constructive relationships around sustainable development goals. The web of values, beliefs, social dynamics and institutions in which all projects and human initiatives are immersed – is key in determining legitimacy. Positive intentions, good ideas and adequate human, technical and financial resources are not enough to ensure the success of a project. Good ideas must be ‘translated’ into options that are perceived as ‘legitimate’, feasible, practical options by key social actors in the given context. To this end, understanding prevailing relations, practices, beliefs, dynamics and their histories – including those aspects that are ‘hidden’ – is crucially important.

Legitimacy and legality are not synonymous; in many cultures, laws are seen as instruments that only serve narrow interests, and therefore as illegitimate. Likewise, illegal activities may be seen as legitimate (e.g. the actions of Robin Hood). Legitimacy – that is, the general perception that a project and its operations are justified – is very important for corporations operating in diverse social, institutional and cultural contexts. Speaking to LEF in London in May 2013, Barnaby Briggs, Strategic Relations Manager of SHELL International, outlined the importance for SHELL, as well as the challenges, of building legitimacy with diverse relevant stakeholders associated with the company’s activities.

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