Sustainable development is often confused with eco-tourism; in fact, they are almost diametrically opposed. Eco-tourism offers visitors a pristine, unnaturally undisturbed experience of nature and indigenous ecology—a rarefied window onto an untouched landscape. But in order to maintain this immaculate image, "eco" resorts can consume disproportionately large amounts of resources. Their remote locations pose a constant challenge for transportation, material resourcing, and basic infrastructure, as do the luxuries they typically offer (think flora, fauna, and extra deep soaking tubs). And the emphasis on the ecological environment often comes at the expense of (or at least with an indifference to) the local people and culture affected by the resort. Eco-tourism can therefore be an intensely unnatural way of experiencing the natural world. Ecotourism can therefore be an intensely unnatural way of experiencing the natural world.
Sustainable development, on the other hand, is far less
pristine, and far more honest.
It can best be understood as a process focused less on the resulting form of a resort, and more on the series of overlapping concerns—economical, ecological, social, and material—that shape it. A fully functioning sustainable development doesn′t attempt to minimize the complexities that come with ecology and construction; it engages them head on.
A sustainable development has to interact with its environs; a resort indifferent to the struggling slum beyond its gates, for instance, would be unacceptable, even if it were carbon-neutral and outfitted with a state-of-the-art water recapturing system. A fully functioning sustainable development doesn′t attempt to minimize the complexities that come with ecology and construction; it engages them head on. Should native areas be preserved at all cost? Or might we be able to preserve an even larger swath of land by cutting certain areas to foster development and stimulate the local economy? These unavoidable economic practicalities complicate but ultimately enrich the final development solution.