1.1 A Definition of Sustainability

1.1 A Definition of Sustainability

The word “sustain” when used as an action or a process is associated with concepts such as “to carry on” or to “keep going”. For example you sustain your body by giving it sufficient nutrients, food and water. However you could keep your body going on stimulants and unhealthy food which would prolong survival, but with a poor standard of living and probably not for very long. Thus it could be called an unsustainable health program.

Similarly environmental sustainability embodies this concept of endurance applied to the Earth’s natural systems and our relationship with them as a human race. It is a concept of organising ourselves with a long term view of the future; aiming for a system that will sustain us and the world and not cause significant catastrophe to either.

The most common definition of sustainability comes from the 1987 Bruntland report and is as follows:

"Meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (Bruntland Report, 1987)

Several other definitions of sustainability have since been suggested, which include:

"Sustainable means using methods, systems and materials that won't deplete resources or harm natural cycles" (Rosenbaum, 1993).

Sustainability "identifies a concept and attitude in development that looks at a site's natural land, water, and energy resources as integral aspects of the development" (Vieira,1993)

"Sustainability integrates natural systems with human patterns and celebrates continuity, uniqueness and placemaking" (Early, 1993)

“Sustainable developments are those which fulfill present and future needs (WECD, 1987) while [only] using and not harming renewable resources and unique human-environmental systems of a site: [air], water, land, energy, and human ecology and/or those of other [off-site] sustainable systems (Rosenbaum 1993 and Vieria 1993).”

Definitions Source: [see reference 2]

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Key words and themes from these definitions are as follows:

Needs – humans have basic needs for survival

Resources – the world provides resources for these needs

Natural cycles/systems/balance – planet earth is a self-sustaining system without humans, we affect these systems when we use resources for our needs

Continuity – finding ways of meeting our needs through using nature's resources without affecting the natural cycles in a way that will detriment future survival

Now watch this 15 minute doculecture from the university of Idaho about the definitions of sustainability: http://webpages.uidaho.edu/sustainability/chapters/ch02/ch02-p01.asp


What does sustainability mean to you? Write down key words you associate with the word “sustainability”. From these words then draw up a definition of sustainability.