Sustainable development can be traced back to the Brundtland report where it was argued that in order to secure the future of the planet and future generations, state policy needed to adopt an integrated approach which combines economic, social and environmental concerns. However a lack of definition over what constitutes economic, social or environmental concerns within the context of sustainable development resulted in different states approaches to the issue. Following the adoption of the Local Agenda 21 agreement, local authorities were given the task of developing policies which would bring about sustainable development.
During the UN Earth Summit in 1992 sustainable development was firmly placed on the national policy agendas through the adoption of Agenda 21. As a result over 6000 projects were set up worldwide and during a survey in 2000, 400 of these were set up across various local authorities throughout the UK. However the impact of the Local Agenda 21 has not been as successful as previously perceived. For instance, research has shown that for the most part, many projects in Britain have had little success with engaging the public and some local council remain sceptical to the potential of sustainable development and as such have failed to fully produce policies which can be considered as examples of sustainable development approaches. Despite the Local Agenda 21 Agreement calling for the requirement of all sustainability approaches to tackle poverty, the integration of this approach with environmental projects has proven to be the weakest. The reasons for this have been widely discussed and are said to be the result over the difficulties involved with integrating economic and environmental concerns into regeneration and inclusion policies.
Yet, there has been a growth in the UK of organisations, particularly at the community level who seek to address environmental issues throughout the UK including protest groups who focus upon road and regeneration developments, all of which draw members from the working class. In addition, research and reports on recent events such as the protest against the expansion of Heathrow has shown that people are increasingly concerned with matters relating to food production and transportation as well as social equality and health. As a result of these there is now an increasing recognition of the importance of sustainable development to the population. It is no coincidence that the former department solely responsible for sustainable development in the UK, the ODPM has in recent years changed its name to the Communities and Local Government Department.
Ecological modernisation is a theoretical strand which originates within the environmental movement to argue that the integration of the environment into cost-risk analysis approaches is the best means through which to bring about economic and social development. As such, proponents of this theoretical approach see the existence of current societal structures as vital to the long term sustainability and therefore do very little in terms of challenging their unsustainable practices. Instead they argue that scientific research and advances in technology are the best means through which to improve sustainability. In practice this has lead to the increasing of cost analysis methods used by both the government and business to address both economic and social goals. For instance in Scandinavia improvements to water quality and pollution emissions have been brought about in conjunction with economic growth and social wellbeing. While in the UK, within regeneration policy the cost analysis benefit for improving local environments has not only been used to justify spending plans, but also to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. Yet despite this, the ecological modernisation theory has come under increasing attack from another theoretical approach referred to as eco-socialism or eco-socialists tradition, which views its attempt to integrate social and environmental goals as weak. From this perspective the deep rooted capitalist ecologists fail to recognise the negative impact of the environment upon certain communities within society and provide a weak response to the poor integration of the environment into the sustainability agenda.