What Happened to the ‘Development’ in Sustainable Development? Business Guidelines Two Decades After Brundtland

Ralf Barkemeyer, Diane Holt, Lutz Preuss, Stephen Tsang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Over twenty years ago ‘Our Common Future’ presented a conceptualization and explanation of the concept of sustainable development. Since then numerous alternative definitions of the concept have been offered, of which at least some are exclusive to each other. At the same time, the role of business in the transition to sustainable development has increasingly received attention. Bringing these two trends in sustainable development together, this paper returns to the Brundtland version of the concept to examine to what extent the original principles of sustainable development are still embedded within key business guidelines, namely the UN Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the ICC Business Charter for Sustainable Development, the CAUX Principles, the Global Sullivan Principles and the CERES Principles. The findings suggest that these business guidelines tend to emphasize environmental rather than social aspects of sustainable development, in particular to the detriment of the original Brundtland prioritization of the needs of the poorest. Furthermore, the attention to environmental aspects stresses win-win situations and has a clear managerialist focus; whereas more conceptual environmental issues concerning systems interdependencies, critical thresholds or systemic limits to growth find little attention. The normative codes and principles targeted at the private sector thus not only add another voice to the multiple discourses on sustainable development but also contribute to a reinterpretation of the original agenda set by Brundtland towards conceptualizations of sustainable development around the needs of industrialised rather than developing countries. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-32
JournalSustainable Development
Issue number1
Early online date27 Apr 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Ranked 18/47 on ISI Journal Citation Reports 2010 (Planning and Development). Impact factor = 1.209.


  • Brundtland Report
  • Caux Principles
  • CERES Principles
  • OECD Guidelines
  • Global Sullivan Principles
  • UN Global Compact
  • ICC Business Charter
  • international development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development


Dive into the research topics of 'What Happened to the ‘Development’ in Sustainable Development? Business Guidelines Two Decades After Brundtland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this