Sustainable development obliterates the argument that economic growth and environmental protection are incompatible by asserting that we can have both. In fact the Canadian environmental group Green Web suggests that the concept of sustainable development is an "ideological cover or legitimization for greatly expanded economic growth; hence expanded or accelerated environmental destruction."
Those environmentalists who favour sustainable development tend to bow out of this debate over whether economic growth is desirable or not. Australian mainstream groups have differentiated between growth and development and prefer the term "Ecologically Sustainable Development" to Sustainable Development because it "emphasises the qualitative aspects of development, as opposed to the traditional emphasis on quantitative growth."
The Australian Commission For the Future argued:
Rather than growth or no-growth, as the debate about environment and development has sometimes been cast, the central issue is what kind of growth. The challenge of sustainable development is to find new products, processes, and technologies which are environmentally friendly while they deliver the things we want.
In theory economic growth could probably be achieved without additional impacts on the environment but this would mean many activities that might otherwise provide economic growth would have to be foregone and this will not happen whilst priority is given to achieving economic growth. Because some environmental groups are concerned to appear reasonable, cooperative and not anti-development, they do not debate the merits of economic growth whilst business groups still push it as a social priority. For example, the International Chamber of Commerce argues:
Economic growth provides the conditions in which protection of the environment can be achieved, and environmental protection, in balance with other human goals, is necessary to achieve growth that is sustainable.... Business thus shares the view that there should be a common goal, not a conflict, between economic development and environmental protection, both now and for future generations.
Because so many environmentalists are ready to give way on the issue of economic growth and deny there is a conflict, environmental protection must be argued in terms of its contribution to economic growth. When the inevitable conflicts come up in particular instances, the environment will only be protected where the economic costs are not perceived to be too high.
The Australian Government, in its 1990 discussion paper on sustainable development, argued that it is the role of governments to resolve conflicts between economic growth and environmental protection as they arise. It argued that:
it is necessary to evaluate the risk to future economic prospects if business investment and growth is prevented or discouraged. In some cases it may be worthwhile paying the price of some environmental damage to ensure present and future economic benefits. This will be particularly relevant in commercial development of non-renewable resources, where at least some transient impact on the environment is inevitable.