West Midlands and Sustainability – Our Definitions

The West Midlands

We define the West Midlands as the area covered by Birmingham, Solihull, Black County, Stoke, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Coventry and Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Sustainability – it’s big and it’s clever

The world of sustainability consists of a variety of terms ranging from the philosophical to the technical.  In our resources we seek to explain the relevant terms within the text, footnotes or through a glossary.  We have also produced a summary report of sustainability definitions from the big picture to the technical detail.

On this page we set out our interpretation of’Sustainability ‘and ‘Sustainable Development’ and what this means for the West Midlands.

Sustainability – the destination

Sustainability is the overall goal or destination of sustainable development. The UK Government definition of sustainability is:

“The goal of sustainable development is 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“[1]

Sustainability – the destination for the West Midlands

In the West Midlands we can play our part and have defined the UK goal for our geography as:

“By 2020 businesses and communities are thriving in a West Midlands that is environmentally sustainable and socially just”

This goal is explored in more depth in ‘A low-carbon vision for the West Midlands in 2020’ and clear targets are set in our roadmap which states that by 2020:

  • Thriving businesses means that the West Midlands is a hub for low-carbon technology innovation and an international supplier, increasing productivity by 30%
  • Thriving and socially just communities means that the life expectancy gap between the worst and best areas in the West Midlands has fallen to 6 years as a result of employment, less pollution and healthier lifestyles
  • Environmentally sustainable means that regional direct carbon emissions are reduced by around 30% from energy efficiency actions and 20% of electricity from renewable sources

Sustainable Development – the journey

Sustainable development is the journey required to achieve sustainability. The mostly widely used international definition is:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”[2]

The UK Government definition is that:

“Sustainable development means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, maximising wellbeing and protecting our environment, without negatively impacting on the ability of future generations to do the same“[3]

One problem with definitions of sustainable development is that they often imply that it is a trade-off between the economy, society and the environment. In reality there is a clear hierarchy of the natural world supporting the economy, which in turn provides a means of converting natural resources to meet the needs of society. Our SWM logo of concentric circles reflects this hierarchy.  As a consequence, at SWM we prefer to use Forum for the Future’s definition of sustainable development:

“A dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems”

Sustainable Development – the journey for the West Midlands

In the West Midlands we have defined the journey towards our goal and hope that:

By 2015 our leaders are working together to make significant progress on the roadmap towards the 2020 vision.”

This journey is explored in more depth in our ‘West Midlands Roadmap to a Sustainable Future in 2020’ which covers the period from 2010 to 2020. Our roadmap identifies priority actions where working together will produce the most progress. These are around the areas of jobs, procurement, waste, buildings, energy, transport, the environment.

We are measuring progress on this journey through a range of measures such as our annual customer survey, research, and case studies which we report back at our annual conference.