What Is Sustainability?

This video provides a basic definition of sustainability.

You’ve probably heard the term “sustainability” in some context or another. It is likely that you’ve used some product or service that was labeled as sustainable, or perhaps you are aware of a campus or civic organization that focuses on sustainability. You may recognize that sustainability has to do with preserving or maintaining resources—we often associate sustainability with things like recycling, using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, and preserving natural spaces like rainforests and coral reefs. However, unless you have an inherent interest in sustainability, you probably haven’t thought much about what the term actually means.

Simply put, sustainability is the capacity to endure or continue. If a product or activity is sustainable, it can be reused, recycled, or repeated in some way because it has not exhausted all of the resources or energy required to create it. Sustainability can be broadly defined as the ability of something to maintain itself. Biological systems such as wetlands or forests are good examples of sustainability since they remain diverse and productive over long periods of time. Seen in this way, sustainability has to do with preserving resources and energy over the long term rather than exhausting them quickly to meet short-term needs or goals.

The term sustainability first appeared in forestry studies in Germany in the 1800s, when forest overseers began to manage timber harvesting for continued use as a resource. In 1804, German forestry researcher Georg Hartig described sustainability as “utilizing forests to the greatest possible extent, but still in a way that future generations will have as much benefit as the living generation” (Schmutzenhofer 1992). While our current definitions are quite different and much expanded from Hartig’s, sustainability still accounts for the need to preserve natural spaces, to use resources wisely, and to maintain them in an equitable manner for all human beings, both now and in the future.

Sustainability seeks new ways of addressing the relationship between societal growth and environmental degradation, which would allow human societies and economies to grow without destroying or overexploiting the environment or ecosystems in which those societies exist. The most widely quoted definition of sustainability comes from the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987, which defined sustainability as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

But sustainability is about more than just the economic benefits of recycling materials and resources. While the economic factors are important, sustainability also accounts for the social and environmental consequences of human activity. This concept is referred to as the “three pillars of sustainability,” which asserts that true sustainability depends upon three interlocking factors: environmental preservation, social equity, and economic viability.

First, sustainable human activities must protect the earth’s environment. Second, people and communities must be treated fairly and equally—particularly in regard to eradicating global poverty and the environmental exploitation of poor countries and communities. And third, sustainability must be economically feasible—human development depends upon the long-term production, use, and management of resources as part of a global economy. Only when all three of these pillars are incorporated can an activity or enterprise be described as sustainable. Some describe this three-part model as: Planet, People and Profit.

From pollution, to resource depletion, to loss of biodiversity, to climate change, a growing human footprint is evident. This is not sustainable. We need to act differently if the world and its human and non-human inhabitants are to thrive in the future. Sustainability is about how we can preserve the earth and ensure the continued survival and nourishment of future generations. You and everyone you know will be affected in some way by the choices our society makes in the future regarding the earth and its resources. In fact, your very life may well depend upon those choices.

For more information about sustainability, see: http://www.macmillanhighered.com/Catalog/product/sustainability-firstedition-weisser

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Three years ago, Apple announced that it was going to make all of its facilities run entirely on renewable energy. In an exclusive, Apple told VICE News Tonight that it’s 96 percent of the way toward that goal. And now it’s setting an another industry-changing objective: making all of its products from recycled or renewable resources. VICE News Tonight’s correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross goes to Cupertino, CA to exclusively talk to Lisa P. Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environmental and Social Initiatives.

Read “Apple promises to stop mining minerals to make iPhones — it just isn’t sure how yet” here: http://bit.ly/2oqoPX1

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29 thoughts on “What Is Sustainability?”

  1. Too many people demand too many resources……yet the worlds population grows by 80 million every year…..
    How many charities are dealing with the same problems they were dealing with 10 or 20 years ago with no end in sight. Every problem is made worse by the worlds growing population. IF you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.
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  2. A very interesting sight on sustainability. This video shows and describes the concept of sustainability form the very beginning in the 19th century to nowaday concerns. Even the Bruntland Report is mentioned which stands for the modern understanding of sustainability. I will show this video to my highschool students in Austria. They will benefit from the clear and comprehensive speeche and the thoroughly explanation of sustainablity.
    Thomas, Austria

  3. well. foxconn and mineral warfare.
    the fact apple cruised with that until publicly exposed and then act like theyre changing? fauck you, youll conjur up another equally horrifying plan asap. ur proven inhumane. glad ive never purchased an apple product. or others

  4. I can appreciate the fact the woman did not take the bait and bash Trump. I also appreciate that she acknowledged that private sector innovation will be the biggest driver towards sustainable development and clean environmental practices, not the public sector

  5. Seriously…Motherboard…one of your subsidiaries just reported on the "Apple demands shred, don't repair" initiative to electronics recyclers. This takes repairable devices and forces them to shred them and send the parts to Apple. Last time I checked, "Cash for clunkers" was not a good thing. This is the same thing, and we applaud Apple for it?


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