What is Sustainability ? Concept, Meaning and Definition

What is Sustainability ? Concept, Meaning and Definition

A search for ‘#sustainability’ on the popular social media platforms like facebook & Instagram reveals more than 2 million public posts covering a spectrum of items from homemade tooth powder to clay dinner-ware and natural clothing. A quick scroll through the #sustainability gallery and other related hashtags like ‘#recycle’ bring out interesting ideas and perspectives from around the world about going green. With phenomenon like climate change and air-pollution making presence across the globe, #sustainability, is not just a fancy buzzword anymore — it is starting to define the identity of both brands and individuals. 

What is Sustainability

Sustainability is a complex concept. The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED):  “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Consequently, sustainability has been defined as meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It presumes 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 the process of living within the limits of available
physical, natural and social resources in ways that allow the living
systems in which humans are embedded to thrive in perpetuity.

Working definition by Academic Advisory Committee at the University of Alberta

The concept continues to expand in scope. In 2000, the Earth Charter broadened the definition of sustainability to include the idea of a global society “founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.”

Sustainability is a holistic approach that considers ecological, social and economic dimensions, recognising that all must be considered together to find lasting prosperity.

Pillars of Sustainability

A popular method of considering the sustainability state of mind is the triple bottom line approach. The three bottom lines, or pillars, are:

  • Economic Sustainability
  • Social Sustainability
  • Environmental Sustainability

Economic Sustainability

Economicsustainability takes into account the social and ecological consequences of economic activity. It incorporates new paradigms like circular economy, cradle to grave etc. Additionally, economic sustainability also means that human communities across the globe are able to maintain their independence and have access to the resources that they require, financial and other, to meet their needs.

Social Sustainability

A socially sustainable society is one in which all members have equal rights, all share equitably in societal benefits, and all participate equally in the decision-making process.  Universal human rights and basic necessities are attainable by all people, who have access to enough resources in order to keep their families and communities healthy and secure.

Environmental Sustainability

Ecological integrity is maintained, all of earth’s environmental systems are kept in balance while natural resources within them are consumed by humans at a rate where they are able to replenish themselves.

The environment, left to itself, can continue to support life for millions of
years. The single most unstable and potentially disruptive element in the
scheme is the human species. Human beings, with modern technology, have the capacity to bring about, intentionally or unintentionally, far-reaching and irreversible changes in the environment.


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