While I’ve been asking around for weeks about what sustainability means to others, let’s take a look at how the term might be defined more academically or officially.

The Brundtland Report – 1987 – Our Common Future

In a United Nations report from decades ago, several global challenges were spelled out. These included population, food security, species and ecosystems, energy, industry, and urban challenges. The Chairman at the time, Gro Harlem Brundtland addressed the urgency of sustainability in her foreword of the report. The report essentially defined sustainability, or more specifically, sustainable development as, “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

For more details about this report, check it out here!

“Environmental degradation, first seen as mainly a problem of the rich nations and a side effect of industrial wealth, has become a survival issue for developing nations.” – Gro Harlem Brundtland

The Metaphor of the Three-Legged Stool

Imagine a three-legged stool. Shorten one leg enough or completely take one leg away, and the chair, as well as the person sitting in it, collapse. Think of sustainability in the same way you think of that stool. To have growth and to move forward without collapse, we, as a global community, need to do so in a fashion that takes into account social, economic, and environmental needs. Fair wage job creation for renewable energy could be an example of balanced and sustainable growth. To bring up the Brundtland Report once again, Brundtland explains that “what is needed now is a new era of economic growth – growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable.”

Check out how the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which incorporate environmental, economic, and social factors here!

Dictionary Definition – Merriam-Webster

Looking at some dictionary definitions of sustainability, Merriam-Webster gives sustainability 3 different definitions: 1) capable of being sustained 2) of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged 3) of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.

Wikipedia Definition

Wikipedia begins their sustainability page to define it most simply as, “the ability to exist constantly.” So that our society, our economy, and our environment can continuously exist without collapsing, sustainability is key.

For even more definitions and information about sustainability as a term and/or concept, check out this Wiki page here!