What is Sustainability?

What is Sustainability?

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (The Brundtland Commission)

The definition above was reported during the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Centuries before this report was made, the ‘Seventh Generation’ philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, mandated that chiefs always consider the effects of their actions on their descendants, seven generations in the future.

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

In defining sustainable development, Stivers (1976), states “sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing humanity. As early as the 1970’s ‘sustainability’ was employed to describe an economy ‘in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems’. Ecologists have pointed to the “limits of growth” (Meadows, Randers and Behrens, 1971) and presented the alternative of a “steady state economy” (Daly, 1991) in order to address environmental concerns.

Throughout various time periods, and from a local to a global scale, sustainability has become a wide-ranging term that can be applied to almost every facet of life on Earth. As the Earth’s human population has increased, natural ecosystems have declined and changes in the balance of natural cycles have had a negative impact on both humans and other living systems.

In order to reverse this impact and return our use of natural resources to within sustainable limits it will require a major collective effort and can take many forms: from reorganising living conditions, reappraising economic sectors, or work practices, using science to develop new technologies, to adjustments in individual lifestyles.

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