Definition of Sustainability

What Is Sustainability?


In its simplest form, sustainability is the idea of being able to accomplish current goals without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. The term “sustainability” is perhaps one of the most difficult terms in the environmentalist’s dictionary to define, yet it is one of the most important – after all, it encompasses social, economic, and ecological issues. One of the major challenges is to develop a definition of sustainability that encompasses the needs of businesses, individuals, indigenous communities and the environment – disagreements between these groups abound, creating huge challenges for those developing sustainability criteria on which policies and laws depend.

Though there are many nuances within the world of sustainability, there are a few basic principles that most people would agree are inherent in the idea of sustainability:

  • Live in productive harmony with non-human aspects of the earth in order to meet society’s needs – social, economic, and security while
  • Indefinitely protecting the natural resource base and environmental quality on which future generations will depend for reaching their full potential while
  • Considering the requirements of communities both up and down the value chain so that indigenous communities’ interests and natural resources are also preserved.

Though the mechanisms that govern the economic and social spheres are often out of the direct control of individuals, consumers can apply sustainable living principles in their own lives in many ways. By directing consumer dollars towards environmentally-preferable products, making adjustments to how they use water and energy, handling waste responsibly, and so on. Individuals have a large, collective impact on the success or failure of sustainable initiatives.

Though many economists and business experts would argue that environmental protection and economic interests are at odds with one another, many creative thinkers are finding ways to capture system dynamics, develop innovative and adaptive systems, anticipate risks and variables, while still turning a profit. It is only a matter of time before regulations are brought into law – especially for carbon dioxide emissions – requiring businesses to really think about how sustainability fits into their business models.

By incorporating sustainable business principles into every aspect of a business, the interests of shareholders and the environment align nicely. True sustainability needs to take into consideration every aspect of the production line:

  • Resource extraction and purchasing policies
  • Manufacturing
  • Supply chains and transportation
  • Product impact (energy and water consumption during use)
  • Waste and disposal
  • Office operations
  • Facility management
  • Marketing and interactions with the public

Those companies that are forward thinking and become sustainable now will succeed over those that ignore the issue altogether.

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