The Brundtland Report ( Our Common Future ) and tourism

Authored by: David Telfer

The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and the Environment

Print publication date:  July  2012
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415582070
eBook ISBN: 9780203121108
Adobe ISBN: 9781136325564


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More than 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) published its report in 1987, Our Common Future continues to have far-reaching influence. It was in 1983 that the United Nations General Assembly created an independent commission to develop ‘a global agenda for change’ at a time when it was recognised that the development paths of industrialised nations were not sustainable and the environment was in increasing danger. Chair of the Commission, Mrs Gro Harlem Brundtland who was Prime Minister and leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, was charged with proposing long-term strategies for achieving sustainable development. The Brundtland Report, also published as Our Common Future by Oxford University Press (OUP), builds on previous work in the environmental movement such as the World Conservation Strategy in 1980, which highlighted the global nature of environmental problems (Gösling et al. 2009). Recognising the importance of global co-operation on environmental matters, the Brundtland Report acknowledged that “the ‘environment’ is where we all live; and ‘development’ is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable” (WCED 1987: xi). The Brundtland Report is widely known for setting out a definition of sustainable development that links economy and ecology, yet the definition has been both widely adopted and criticised. The definition reads as: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED 1987: 43). However, beyond just setting out a definition, the Report may be more important in firmly placing the concept of sustainable development into the political arena (Hardy et al. 2002) thereby influencing governments, international organisations, NGOs, industries, communities, individuals and academics, including those studying tourism. The discussion of sustainable development has moved forward considerably since the Brundtland Report serving as the basis for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where Agenda 21, an action plan towards implementing sustainable development, was developed. Although only mentioning the word tourism once, Our Common Future has had significant impact on tourism. There is a sizeable and rapidly growing body of literature on tourism in the context of sustainable development (Butler 1999; Garrod 1998) as tourism has adopted the sustainable development paradigm. Many of the research articles in tourism employ the definition of sustainable development cited from Our Common Future as a stepping off platform before expanding on the debates on sustainable tourism development. Where initially the debates surrounded whether some specific types of tourism such as responsible tourism, ecotourism and community-based tourism were more sustainable than others, now the debate has moved towards making all forms of tourism more sustainable as government plans, codes of conduct, certifications and corporate social responsibility statements all claim to reflect sustainable development as outlined in the Brundtland Report. This chapter will begin by briefly examining the historical context for the WCED before exploring the ‘Common Concerns’, ‘Challenges’ and ‘Endeavours’ as laid out in the Report. The chapter will then turn to reflections on the impact of the Brundtland Report on tourism.

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