What is Sustainability?

Defining Sustainability

Sustainability is a word like any other in the dictionary, and it means “to keep things going”; “to endure.” It was adopted by The Brundtland Commission in 1987 to express a growing concern that the rate of consumption of the resources of the earth could not keep going forever without running out. Their definition of sustainability is widely accepted: [to] “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The Concept in Our Times

The diagram below illustrates how people and their economies must work in balance with the environment in order to sustain all life on earth for future generations.

Sustainability Diagram

“Rate of consumption” is a phrase that refers to how quickly humans use Earth’s resources to survive. And, if everyone on Earth (the current global population) were to consume the same amount as Americans, we would need the resources of four more planets! Everything comes from the earth; oil provides plastic; coal or wind provides lighting; trees provide paper, etc. Using up so much so fast means we may run out, but the processes are harmful to life. That is why we must look for alternative ways of living and producing goods. At the same time, to be sustainable means that all societies have equal opportunities for a decent quality of life for themselves and for future generations.

To learn more:

  • ECO Literate, Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, Zenobia Barlow.
  • The Sustainability Revolution, Edwards, A.
  • Searching for Sustainability, Norton, B.
  • Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change (Urban and Industrial Environments), Peggy F. Barlett (Editor), Geoffrey W. Chase (Editor).

This page was last updated on: October 8, 2015