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What is Sustainability?

Sustainability: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Often the term sustainability is associated primarily with the environment.  Although the environment is an important dimension of sustainability, a more complete definition includes additional aspects.

Sustainability consists of three elements:

  • Our natural world, the environment and natural resources

The endowment of renewable and non-renewable resources is critical to sustaining life on the planet.

  • The community and social structures

Respect for the cultures and social values that exist around the world is a fundamental dimension of sustainability.

  • Economic systems  

These systems produce the goods and services necessary for survival and must be included when considering the full dimension of sustainability and sustainable development.

Sustainable solutions must include all of these dimensions.  

Consideration of the future is also a key element of sustainability. The basic idea behind sustainability is that the current generation can meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland Report, 1987). There are other considerations depending on the perspective of the person defining the term. For example, economists will include an element that addresses the efficient allocation of scarce resources with intergenerational considerations while an ecologist would frame the discussion in terms of temporal ecosystem functions, biodiversity, or resiliency. Regardless of the discipline, all decisions made around the world today should consider how to implement sustainability in practice.