Sustainable industrial development considers sustainability issues across the board, not just those directly related to the industry. It includes, for example, getting information to consumers, greening the supply chain, as well as internal management processes. It needs to look beyond the purely environmental to the wider dimensions of sustainability—social progress and economic competitiveness. This means bringing together businesses and sectors in an evolving dialogue to identify the key sustainability issues for their industry.
Ways and means must be found to develop industrial processes and products that are both economically competitive and environmentally sustainable. Environmentally acceptable industrial complexes may be established by employing new technologies that are of more recent vintage but adapted to local resources, human capacities, and infrastructure. This requires new thinking that is best developed collaboratively between developed and developing countries. It requires industries to formulate and pursue longer term visions by way of incentives and appropriate frameworks for long-term thinking (in contrast to focussing on short-term gain and corporate survival).
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Some of the questions business and industry need to address in order to develop sustainable long term development strategies include: (1) Measuring impacts—what are the major environmental impacts of the sector and how efficient is it in the use of resources. If it need 11 tonnes of material to make 1 tonne of product how sustainable is such a process in the longer term? (2) Benchmarking and reporting—Do you have a process for benchmarking performance in these key areas, for setting targets and for reporting on that process? Is it transparent? How is it validated? Is the environment an integral part of business processes? (3) Product care—What approach do you take to products after use? Do you exercise producer responsibility or a responsible care programme? (4) Informing consumer choice—Do you have a strategy for getting environmental information on your products to consumers? (5) Greening purchasing and transport—Environmental dimensions of purchasing are also important as are your decisions on transport. Do you have a green transport plan for your employees travelling to work, cutting car use and promoting public transport? (6) Stakeholder dialogue—Are you engaging employees in this process and responding to the interests of other stakeholders? There may be issues of ethical trading to consider in your area. Do you use components produced by child labour in the developing world?
As an element of sustainable development, good practice in health, environment and safety management (GPHESM) offers considerable benefits. These benefits depend on the successful implementation of effective health, environment and safety management (HESM) in a large number of enterprises. The health benefits consist of increases in life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy, in working ability and the proportion of employees free from occupational and work-related diseases and injuries, in the percentage of employees and pensioners free from serious disability due to chronic noncommunicable diseases, in the adoption of healthy lifestyles, and in equity in health. GPHESM would also result in a decrease in absenteeism due to disease and injury, and decreases in health—and safety-related insurance premiums.
Industrialization is at the root of the process which will ultimately be needed to bring about a more equal distribution of wealth in the world and improved living standards in the developing countries. At the same time, industrialization along the path followed historically in the developed world would entail a threat to the environment which would be unsustainable under today's conditions.