There is no universally agreed definition on what sustainability means. There are many different views on what it is and how it can be achieved. The idea of sustainability stems from the concept of sustainable development which became common language at the World’s first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
The original definition of sustainable development is usually considered to be:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1992)
Since then, there have been many variations and extensions on this basic definition. Many argue that sustainability has been hijacked and twisted to suit government and business that really want to continue with business as usual.
The quotes below will provide some ideas on what constitutes sustainable development and sustainability.
“A process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations” The World Commission on Environment and Development
“Sustainable development is a dynamic process which enables people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the earth’s life support systems”(Forum for the Future)
“In essence sustainable development is about five key principles: quality of life; fairness and equity; participation and partnership; care for our environment and respect for ecological constraints – recognising there are ‘environmental limits'; and thought for the future and the precautionary principle”. (From Making London Work by Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Wealth London project)
“The environment must be protected… to preserve essential ecosystem functions and to provide for the wellbeing of future generations; environmental and economic policy must be integrated; the goal of policy should be an improvement in the overall quality of life, not just income growth; poverty must be ended and resources distributed more equally; and all sections of society must be involved in decision making”. (The Real World Coalition 1996, a definition based on the work of the World Commission on Environment and Development)
“We cannot just add sustainable development to our current list of things to do but must learn to integrate the concepts into everything that we do.”(The Dorset Education for Sustainability Network)
“A sustainable future is one in which a healthy environment, economic prosperity and social justice are pursued simultaneously to ensure the well-being and quality of life of present and future generations. Education is crucial to attaining that future.” (Learning for a Sustainable Future – Teacher Centre)
“The first and perhaps most difficult problem, one that seldom gets addressed, is the time frame…Is a sustainable society one that endures for a decade, a human lifetime, or a thousand years?” (The shaky ground of Sustainable Development Donald Worster in Global Ecology 1993)
What do you believe are the most pressing questions, priorities and challenges to the creation of a sustainable society, both locally and globally?
“Sustainability is something everyone can work towards… whether it is picking up garbage you see on the street or boycotting a company that practices environmentally harmful business methods, we all can make a difference.“