What does 'sustainability' mean?



The word ‘sustainability’ is a recent invention, first recorded in 1907 in reference to a legal objection (online Etymology). It entered the folklife discourse with Alan Lomax’s (1972) Appeal for Cultural Equity and the 1983 report on The Conservation of Culture, coordinated by Ormond Loomis for the American Folklife Center. The term gained popularity within developmental economics and policy planning following the 1987 publication of the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission Report on sustainable development Our Common Future.

The Brundtland Commission Report defined sustainability, and in particular sustainable development, as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (United Nations, 1987). http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm

However, ‘sustainability’ is an elusive concept with hundreds of proposed definitions –e.g. see http://www.emrgnc.com.au/SustainabilityDefinitions.pdf. It is a shifting ideal and its meaning changes in different contexts (http://humbox.ac.uk/2480/):