Développement durable, Environnement, Faune et Parcs
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Sustainable Development

Frequently asked questions

General questions
  1. What is the origin of the expression “sustainable development”?
  2. How is sustainable development defined in Québec?
  3. What is the goal of sustainable development?
  4. Is sustainable development necessary?
  5. Why is sustainable development so often associated with protecting the environment?
  6. Does sustainable development apply to all spheres of activity?
  7. What can I do, as a citizen, for development to be more sustainable?
  8. How does sustainable development make economic sense for society?
  9. How will Québec society arrive at a more sustainable development?

Questions about the Sustainable Development Act

  1. Why did the Government of Québec adopt the Sustainable Development Act?
  2. Who is affected by the Sustainable Development Act?
  3. What does the Sustainable Development Act do?
  4. How will the Government accomplish Québec’s sustainable development process?
  5. How do departments and agencies contribute to implementing the Government Sustainable Development Strategy?
  6. What principles of sustainable development must be taken into account by the public administration?
  7. Can the principles of sustainable development be followed by other organizations?
  8. Is Québec the only government interested in sustainable development?
  9. How will Québec’s sustainable development process be measured? 

1. What is the origin of the expression “sustainable development”?

 In the 1970s, international organisations realized that we could no longer continue to develop as if the Earth had unlimited resources. In light of this observation, in 1980 the International Union for Conservation of Nature published a report entitled World Strategy for Conservation,in which the expression “sustainable development” appeared for the first time. In 1987 it appeared again, in a report published by the World Commission on Environment. Entitled Our Common Future, more widely known as the Brundtland Report, this work propelled “sustainable development” along with its definition into common usage.

2. How is sustainable development defined in Québec?

The Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Adopted in April 2006, Québec’s Sustainable Development Act adds the following to that definition: “Sustainable development is based on a long-term approach which takes into account the inextricable nature of the environmental, social and economic dimensions of development activities.”

Sustainable development is a concept that puts human beings at the heart of concerns and decision-making. The three dimensions that define it correspond to three aspects of human activity: our living environment, our way of life and our standard of living. The three dimensions of sustainable development form a whole and cannot be taken separately.

The meaning of this relationship is best expressed by the following affirmation: Society could not exist without an environment in which to obtain water, air, food, etc. Though the economy provides the people in this society with a standard of living allowing to meet their basic needs, it too depends on how we use the environment’s renewable and non-renewable resources.

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3. What is the goal of sustainable development?

Sustainable development is aimed at ensuring quality of life to present and future generations. Quality of life is recognized as being able to live in healthy surroundings (the environmental dimension), with an adequate standard of living (the economic dimension) and a way of life that is physically, intellectually and morally satisfying (the social dimension).

Inevitably, our decisions and actions all have an impact on the environment, the economy and society. For example, when we decide to purchase quality products regionally or locally, we encourage economic development at the regional level and in our own community. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of food and other commodities are thereby reduced.

This shows that it is important to anticipate the consequences of our actions so as to maximize their positive effects and minimize their negative effects. The goal is to be able to satisfy our needs and aspirations for development today, while letting future generations also meet their diverse development needs, with respect for the Earth’s resources.

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4. Is sustainable development necessary?

The Earth’s resources are not unlimited. If we use them in a more judicious and equitable manner, our children and grandchildren can have the benefit of them too. We need to change our habits and improve our ways of doing things so as not to exhaust the wealth we have today but rather ensure its quality for those who will come after. These changes cannot be accomplished without modifying how we manage our economic and social affairs. With this new way of thinking and realizing development, we are in a period of radical change, and at a planetary scale.

5. Why is sustainable development so often associated with protecting the environment?

In the 1970s, environmental groups sounded the alarm about the boom in economic activity and the ceaseless exploitation of natural resources, which too often were damaging to the environment. Their efforts to sensitize people to the ecological downside of development bore fruit, and gradually there emerged an environmental awareness in societies around the world.

This explains why, in the 1980s, the concept of sustainable development was associated with protecting the environment. For many people it is still a valid association.

But sustainable development is really a much broader concept, one that puts human beings at the heart of decision-making. It brings a new way of conceiving and carrying out development in which economic, social and environmental considerations are all taken into account.

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6. Does sustainable development apply to all spheres of activity?

Yes, this new approach to development applies to all spheres of activity. This includes the public administration, which launched its own sustainable development process following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Act. The health and social services network, the school network, municipal bodies and private enterprise are all encouraged to do the same if they wish, and some already do.

Indeed, questions related to sustainable development play a greater and greater role in the strategic decisions of Québec businesses. For example, “corporate social responsibility” is now a common concept. For business, committing to sustainable development means striving not only for financial performance but for social and environmental performance as well.

On this matter, a number of useful documents are provided for the general public in the section Tools for a Sustainable Development Approach.

7. What can I do, as a citizen, for development to be more sustainable?

Citizens already do many things for more sustainable development, often for environmental reasons. For example:

  • by reducing your consumption of over-packaged products;
  • by walking, bicycling or using public transit instead of your car;
  • by sweeping your driveway instead of using the hose, by not watering your lawn, or by not letting the tap
  • run to avoid wasting water;
  • by choosing a more energy-efficient automobile.

To go further, someone could:

  • buy products that are certified fair-trade. Not only would this help create the conditions necessary to preserve the environment, they would contribute to social equity through a better distribution of wealth and by helping to reduce human exploitation;
  • change their living habits to include more sports and recreational activities so they will be in better physical condition. This will lower the risk of accident and illness while enhancing quality of life, another way of contributing to sustainable development. Why not combine the useful with the enjoyable by getting involved in a local intergenerational community garden project?

The Government Sustainable Development Strategy 2008-2013 suggests a wide array of actions for sustainable development. You will certainly find good ideas in it for how to make an even greater contribution to the Québec process.

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8. How does sustainable development make economic sense for society?

Any sustainable development process will make economic sense in the medium and long term, provided that it:

  • reduces the use of non-renewable resources (such as metals and oil) whose prices rise as they become increasingly rare;
  • allows renewable resources to be used in perpetuity because they are used appropriately (forest and fishery products, other biological resources, etc.);
  • reduces the enormous costs of decontamination, clean-up and the restoration of environments disturbed by human activity. Consider for example the economic and social costs of the recent crises in forestry and the cod fishing industry, both being the result of dramatically unsustainable development.

It also makes economic sense for our society:

  • to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life;
  • to invest in training, education and quality health care;
  • to reduce the consumption of junk food and encourage physical activity, thereby lowering health care costs;
  • to make better use of our residual materials by turning them into new resources for our development, and by promoting reuse, recovery and recycling in that order;
  • to save water and maintain its quality, ensuring a safe supply and reducing treatment costs;
  • to reduce consumption of energy. This has immediate financial impact because it lessens the need for new hydroelectric plants and the massive costs that will come with climate change.

All of these measures contribute to sustainable development.

Conversely, there are terrible costs associated with the waste of resources, overconsumption, deterioration of the environment, poverty, social inequality and the debts a society leaves to future generations. These costs are above all the result of development situations that are not viable.

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9. How will Québec society arrive at a more sustainable development?


Sustainable development is a long-term process that touches all levels of society, its purpose being the continuous improvement of the population’s quality of life. Every step in the right direction is important to accomplishing such far-reaching change, and efforts must be sustained over time for that change to be enduring.

In this perspective, and since Québec’s sustainable development process is constantly evolving, many practices and rules will be refined over time. The Government Sustainable Development Strategy 2008-2013, which stems from the Sustainable Development Act, provides for mechanisms to measure and monitor Québec’s progress.

10. Why did the Government of Québec adopt the Sustainable Development Act?

Adopted by the Government of Québec in 2006, the Sustainable Development Act provides a framework for the governmental process. It enables greater integration of the sustainable development process at all levels and into all spheres of intervention, in the policies, programs and actions of the public administration.

To achieve results in sustainable development and ensure that the process is sustained over time, commitment, coherence and continuity are required in all interventions. Time is needed too, since such a process requires changes in behaviour and attitudes. This legislative framework will therefore serve to guide the efforts of the various players toward common goals.

The Sustainable Development Act gives concrete form to the Government of Québec’s international commitments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002 in Johannesburg. Like the other states present, Québec committed to developing and implementing a national strategy for sustainable development.

The Sustainable Development Act is the centrepiece of a sustainable development plan presented by the Government to the people of Québec on November 25, 2004. The bill was the subject of a vast public consultation in 21 cities of Québec during the spring of 2005, with a second consultation in parliamentary committee the following autumn.

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11. Who is affected by the Sustainable Development Act?

The Sustainable Development Act is addressed primarily to Québec’s public administration, comprising nearly 150 organizations: departments, public agencies and government corporations. However, municipal bodies, the health and social services network and the school network are all encouraged to follow suit on a voluntary basis, drawing inspiration from the Act. The Government will determine at what point the Act could apply to these organizations as well, though only after consulting with them.

There are also other social actors, including businesses and citizens, who are taking steps for sustainable development. The Act therefore serves as a frame of reference not only for Québec’s public administration but for society as a whole.

12. What does the Sustainable Development Act do?

The Act gives Québec its own definition of sustainable development and compels for a government strategy to be carried out and realized. It also defines sixteen principles to be taken into account in all interventions by the public administration. The Act provides a framework for the public administration obligations with regards to sustainable development.

Lastly, the Act makes the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks responsible for coordinating government actions and for promoting sustainable development both in government and in Québec society.

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13. How will the Government accomplish Québec’s sustainable development process?«

In accordance with the provisions of the Sustainable Development Act, Québec has given itself a strategy: the Government Sustainable Development Strategy 2008-2013. The latter presents a vision, the issues, nine orientations and the objectives to be pursued by the administration with regard to sustainable development. Through this strategy, the Government indicates how it plans to go about accomplishing Québec’s sustainable development process.

14. How do departments and agencies contribute to implementing the Government Sustainable Development Strategy?

In spring 2009, all departments and agencies concerned by the Act adopted and made public their own action plans (French) describing the means and actions that will be deployed over five years to contribute to the implementation of the Strategy. It is through these action plans that the Québec process for sustainable development will really take root.

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15. What principles of sustainable development must be taken into account by the public administration?

Québec’s Sustainable Development Act defines 16 principles that must be incorporated into the interventions of all departments and agencies. They must guide the development of policies, programs, strategies and action plans throughout the public administration. In applying these principles, the departments and agencies are obliged to question their interventions to ensure that they reflect the type of development desired.

The 16 principles of the Act form a reference system, and all are important to the sustainable development process. Taking them into account ensures that environmental, social and economic aspects are all considered when decisions are being made.

The 16 principles of the Act reflect both the principles set forth in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (a fundamental text affirming the international commitment to sustainable development) and the concerns expressed in the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development.

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16. Can the principles of sustainable development be followed by other organizations?

The 16 principles of sustainable development and other comparable principles, like those of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, are being woven into the practices of an ever growing number of businesses, not-for-profit organizations and stakeholders in many different fields. They are inspired by them to improve their ways of doing things in terms of strategic planning, production and consumption, transportation and mobility, citizen participation and involvement and ecological responsibility, finding ideas in them for new areas of intervention. The only limit is the imagination!

17. Is Québec the only government interested in sustainable development?

No. A number of governments around the world have developed national sustainable development strategies. However, Québec was one of the first three governments (with the United Kingdom and West Australia) to invite all their departments and agencies to join in the process by developing and implementing sustainable development action plans in accordance with a strategy.

The government strategy is phased over five years. At the end of this period, we will be able to measure Québec’s progress and compare it with that of other jurisdictions. A new strategy will then be proposed in order to carry on the process.

18. How will Québec’s sustainable development process be measured?

As required by the Act, in December 2009 the Government of Québec adopted the First List of Sustainable Development Indicators. These indicators will make it possible to measure Québec’s progress in sustainable development. The list was adopted after a consultation held during the proceedings of the Commission des transports et de l’environnement.

The First List of Sustainable Development Indicators is available on the website of the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ).

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