The concept of sustainable development dates back a long way, but it was at the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972) that the international community met for the first time to consider global environment and development needs together.

The Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan defined principles for the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, and highlighted the need to support people in this process. One of the decisions outlined in the Stockholm Declaration was the formation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Conference indicated that "industrialised" environmental problems, such as habitat degradation, toxicity and acid rain, were not necessarily relevant issues for all countries. In particular, development strategies were not meeting the needs of the poorest countries and communities. However, it was the pending environmental problems that dominated the meeting and led to wider public environmental awareness.

The Founex Report on Development and the Environment was produced by Civil Society in the run up to the conference in 1971.