Both sustainability and sustainable development have multiple meanings that are underpinned by diverse normative visions. Nonetheless, sustainable development is currently centre-stage at the global level. The main goal of this paper is to critically examine these important concepts, in particular their social and cultural dimensions, and to make a conceptual offering: that of ‘caring sustainable development.’ This way of thinking about sustainable development aims to grapple in a situated way with the different normative underpinnings of sustainability in order to support the building of a common future. The paper briefly examines populations, reproduction (both biological and sociocultural) and human in vitro fertilization (IVF), as important sites for thinking about caring sustainable development. It draws on research in New Caledonia examining which populations and which sociocultural practices are encouraged and sustained, or not. It finds that historically there are many examples of things and people being neglected and not cared for, or being encouraged to ‘develop’ in problematic ways. By contrast, recent practices associated with IVF suggest ways forward that would enable caring sustainable development.