Sustainable development (SD) refers to a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come. The term 'sustainable development' was used by the Brundtland Commission which 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.".
Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges faced by humanity. As early as the 1970s, "sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems." Ecologists have pointed to The Limits to Growth, and presented the alternative of a "steady state economy" in order to address environmental concerns.
The concept of sustainable development has in the past most often been broken out into three constituent parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability. More recently, it has been suggested that a more consistent analytical breakdown is to distinguish four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. This is consistent with the UCLG move to make 'culture' the fourth domain of sustainability. (See below under Culture.)