What is Sustainability?
(Reproduced from: Citizens Network for Sustainable
What's your definition?
There are many
different definitions of "sustainability"and "sustainable
development." Depending on who you are and what you find important, your
definition or concept of sustainability will likely vary from others --
assuming you have one. Many people have no idea what sustainability is, or
argue that it is so ambiguous that it is a meaningless term.
However, the most important words in our language, such as truth, justice,
love, freedom, faith, have multiple and often conflicting definitions.
Increasingly people are recognizing sustainability as one of the most important
ideas of the new century, that its practice and realization will decide the
very survival of our industrious human species. Thus it is essential for each
person to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for this concept and
define what it means to you as an individual
The international definition
It is also important to know how this term is defined and used by
policymakers making national and international laws, treaties and other
agreements. To understand how the international policymaking community defines sustainability,
it is essential to recognize three key elements, which emerged from three
historic meetings of the world's heads of state (as well as major scientists,
business leaders, educators and public interest groups.) As citizens of this
planet, taking responsibility for the future we are creating, we should all be
familiar with these three elements:
1. Acknowledging responsibility to the future
"Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that
it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs."
- World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our
Common Future (1987), page 24, para 27[pdf]
2. Using an integrative framework
"...economic development, social development and environmental protection
are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable
development, which is the framework for our efforts to achieve a higher quality
of life for all people."
- World Summit on Social Development (1995), Cop enhagen
Declaration on Social Development, page 5, para. 6 [pdf]
3. Three overarching objectives
"These efforts will also promote the integration of the three
components of sustainable development, economic development, social development
and environmental protection, as interdependent and mutually reinforcing
pillars. Poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and
consumption and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic
and social development are overarching objectives of, and
essential requirements for, sustainable development.
- World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), Plan
of Implementation, page 8, para 2 [pdf]
The following represent a sample of various other statements about
sustainability or sustainable development, highlighting different aspects or
perspectives of the concept:
"An economic state where
the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met
without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future
generations. It can also be expressed in the simple terms of an economic
golden rule for the restorative economy: leave the world better than you
found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life of the
environment, make amends if you do."
Ecology of Commerce
Sustainability pertains to a
balanced interaction between a population and the carrying capacity of an
environment such that the population develops to express its full
potential without adversely and irreversibly affecting the carrying
capacity of the environment upon which it depends.
Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.
Friends Service Committee
The ability to provide for the needs of the world's current
population without damaging the ability of future generations to provide
for themselves. When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over
and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs
to anyone involved.
The ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes and
functions, biological diversity, and productivity over time.
Sustainable development The concept of meeting the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their needs. The terms originally applied to natural resource situations,
where the long term was the focus. Today, it applies to many disciplines,
including economic development, environment, food production, energy, and
social organization. Basically, sustainability/sustainable development
refers to doing something with the long term in mind. ...
A characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained
Sustainability has many definitions but the basic principles and
concepts remain constant: balancing a growing economy, protection for the
environment, and social responsibility, so they together lead to an
improved quality of life for ourselves and future generations.
Environmental Protection Agency
An architectural property of a program which allows continued
Economic development that takes full account of the environmental
consequences of economic activity and is based on the use of resources
that can be replaced or renewed and therefore are not depleted.
To keep in existence; maintain. To supply with necessities or
nourishment; provide for earth
The use of ecosystems and their resources in a manner that
satisfies current needs while allowing them to persist in the long term.
for Biodiversity and Conservation
The measure by which a human activity can be continued without
relying upon limited resources, such as fossil fuels, or by leaving waste
behind, and also giving nature the chance to replenish itself.
Using methods, systems and materials that won't deplete resources
or harm natural cycles.
Environmental Management Initiative
To keep in existence, to maintain or prolong
Irving Forest Discovery
Sustainability is effectively the goal of sustainable
development. It is the ideal end state which we must aspire.
Sustainable Development (ESD)
Use of resources in a manner that allows the resources to be replenished
by natural systems, as well avoidance of pollution that damages biological
systems. Use of resources in such a manner that they will never be
Heritage Ecosystem Discoveries Project
the ability of natural resources to provide ecological, economic,
and social benefits for present and future generations.
Center for Environmental Education
creating new ways to live and prosper while ensuring an
equitable, healthy future for all people and the planet (Natural Step
Environmental Protection Agency
The ability to continue an activity for a long period of time
while maintaining diverse, healthy and productive ecosystems.
Commission for the Environment (New Zealand)
A concept and strategy by which communities seek economic
development approaches that benefit the local environment and quality of
life. Sustainable development provides a framework under which communities
can use resources efficiently, create efficient infrastructures, protect
and enhance the quality of life, and create new businesses to strengthen
their economies. ...
City of Austin,
the property of being sustainable.
Sustainability is an economic, social, and environmental concept.
It is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human
activity so that society and its members are able to meet their needs and
express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving
biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the
ability to maintain these ideals indefinitely. Sustainability affects
every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire