The term 'sustainable development' rose to significance after it was used by the Brundtland Commission in its 1987 report Our Common Future. In the report, the commission coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
This concept resumes the issue of the compatibility of the demands of economic growth with the limited natural resources, therefore with the environment’s ability to absorb the waste and polluting emissions.
However, sustainable development is not just the mere protection of the environment. It is a concept of development that requires a global and preventive approach, so that it is possible to integrate the economic, environmental and social dimension of a community. The objective is to reach a better quality of life for everyone, in a society not only richer, but also healthier and fairer in a cleaner and safer environment.
Important indications on how to apply Sustainable Development come from the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, at the end of which a document was drawn up, Agenda XXI, an action plan to be adopted starting the 90’s, for the 21st century. It includes the strategies and measures able to promote sustainable development at a global level. This document, adopted by each continent and translated into the commitment of European regions in the Chart of Aalborg (1994), emphasizes the importance of certain fundamental aspects, such as:
Integration of environmental considerations into all the structures of central governments and at all the levels of the government in order to ensure coherence among the policies of the different sectors;
Adoption of a planning, control and management system to support this integration;
Involvement and participation of public and vested interests, which requires full access to information.
Sustainable development requires the use of tools helping decision-makers to adopt efficient integrated policies. The availability of complete and meaningful becomes necessary in order to take critical decisions under high uncertainty conditions. That is why, on the base of the Agenda XXI way towards sustainable development, it is fundamental to adopt indices or synthetic representations able to provide indications on different issues.