What is Sustainability?

Sustainability continues to capture an increasing level of public awareness and interest, and sometimes it influences government and private policies.  But what exactly is the concept of sustainability?

Sustainability is often confused with environmentalism but it goes beyond environmental justice and strives for balance between environmental, social and economic concerns, often referred to as the three pillars of sustainability.

The concept is complex, complicated all the more by its various descriptions presented by different groups.  The UN Bruntland commission defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

According to the UCLA Sustainability Committee, sustainability is the presumption that “resources are finite and should be used conservatively and wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences of the ways in which resources are used.”

Sustainability is a balancing act of social, environmental and economic considerations.   W.M. Adams, Professor of Conservation and Development and author of The Future of Sustainability:  Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century, stated that sustainability was not just a combination of economic, environmental and social components. Rather, these three colin-in-streampillars of sustainability are very much interdependent.

The economy is dependent upon society and would not exist without society. Society depends on the environment as humans require its resources and rely on functioning ecosystems.

The health and well-being of the environment is subject to the economic and social well-being of human populations.  People tend to view economic situations and societal concerns as more immediate needs when times are dire.

Much has been written on sustainability to date and its movement continues to gather momentum.  The more content that is published, the more complicated the term seems to be, but perhaps, simply stated, sustainability is all about the future of life on this planet, and movement toward sustainability, however big or small, is better than movement away from it.

Perhaps, simply stated, sustainability is all about the future of life on this planet..



Committee on Incorporating Sustainability in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Sustainability

A report by the Committee on Incorporating Sustainability in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, maintains that sustainability is based on four drivers.

The first driver is the awareness that current strategies to decrease existing and future risks cannot prevent the complex problems threatening the planet’s critical natural resources.  Such threats include climate change, population growth, the growing discrepancies between the rich and poor and finite natural resource and biodiversity depletion.

The second is the increasing availability of advanced tools to address the complex and challenging issues that surpass the current risk management.

The third is that sustainability now a common approach for the U.S. and international bodies to address broader social, economic and environmental issues.

The last is the recognition of sustainability’s potential economic value to decrease environmental risks and optimize the social and economic benefits of environmental protection.

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