Sustainability is a difficult word to define, but it is often best described by the three pillars principle, which incorporates the need to balance the economy, environment and society in all decisions which involve the health of our planet. The three pillars concept is based on the idea that no one pillar is more important than another and thus, in order to successfully protect our planet in the long-term, all three pillars need to be considered equally. Subsequently, another definition for sustainability is the famous 1987 definition which was coined by the Brundtland Report, also known as Our Common Future: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs1”.
The difficulty with defining the word sustainability is that in modern society, the term sustainability feels too much like a buzzword. It seems that everything today is made to be sustainable, such as light bulbs and cleaning products, or all activities and services are conducted matching sustainable practices. This casual use of the term sustainability reduces the validity of the term, making it feel too simplistic and analogous to a suggestion, rather than a fundamental principle.
As mentioned earlier, sustainability is often associated with the three pillars concept: environmental sustainability, economical sustainability and social sustainability. This tripod can be visualized as follows:
Reference:This image displays the three main spheres which comprise sustainability2.
As can be inferred by the illustration above, all factors which are considerations for overall sustainability overlap which each other and thus, sustainability needs to weigh each factor in concert.
In essence, the term sustainability heavily relates to the reality that humans have always had a large impact on this planet and unfortunately, now in the twenty-first century we are realizing the negative consequences associated with these actions. Although we cannot reverse the past practices of civilization, we can continue on into the future following this framework surrounding the concept of sustainable development, both in an anthropocentric (human-oriented) and ecocentric (ecologically oriented) sense.
1. United Nations. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Retrieved from http://conspect.nl/pdf/Our_Common_Future-Brundtland_Report_1987.pdf
2. WordPress.com. (2014). AxXiom for Liberty. Retrieved from http://axiomamuse.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/edmond-info-for-citizens-planning-to-survive-sustainability/
Title Image Credit:University of Exeter / Flickr.com