Sustainability is the commonsense notion that long-term prosperity and ecological health not only go together, they depend on one another.
Sustainability means long-term cultural, ecologic and economic health and vitality. Or put another way, sustainability is about actions which are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just and humane.
It has also been defined as meeting our needs today while ensuring that future generations can continue to meet their own needs. Sustainability involves preserving the natural environment upon which people and economies depend.
In 1996 the Minnesota Legislature defined sustainable development -- the process of moving toward the state of sustainability -- as "development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Sustainability is different from environmentalism. To elaborate on what Alan AtKisson wrote in his 1999 book "Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World" (see http://www.atkisson.com/resources/believingcassandra/): Activism to protect Nature from the ravages of the economy and from the typical American lifestyle (traditional environmentalism: the stick) is different than redesigning industry and lifestyles to fit benignly into the natural world (sustainable development: the carrot). Working toward sustainability necessarily engages disparate groups -- labor unions, industry leaders, Wall Street, citizen groups, government, academia and others -- as well as environmentalists. It offers people a bold, inspiring, very long-term vision.
Sustainability is "the original green" that our great-grandparents knew by heart. Before the Thermostat Age, the places we built and buildings we built had no choice but to be green, otherwise people would freeze to death in the winter, die of heat strokes by summer, starve to death, or other really bad things would happen to them! Sustainable places are accessible, securable, nourishable and serviceable, and sustainable buildings are lovable, durable, flexible and frugal. [from http://www.originalgreen.org]
Two well-accepted sets of sustainability principles - the Natural Step and Cradle-to-Cradle frameworks - establish conditions for how we can develop our products, services, our individual lives, our economy, and our society in a truly sustainable manner.
According to Minnesota Planning's 1998 publication Sustainable Development: The Very Idea (available at http://www.mnplan.state.mn.us/pdf/sdiprim3.pdf), for human activities to be sustainable over time, they should:
Another way of thinking about sustainability is to note how communities often work toward becoming more sustainable. These actions often involve each of the following five characteristics (as modified from a discussion in The Eagle Bird: Mapping a New West by Charles F. Wilkinson, 1999, p. 108):
- holistic (combining environmental, social and economic considerations)
- place-based (rooted in a specific geographic location)
- long-term in focus (looking decades or more ahead)
- collaborative, inclusive and educational (welcoming the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, who become educated about sustainability)
- practical and results-oriented (seeking to make a visible and concrete difference)
* For a list that details over two dozen specific criteria for evaluating the sustainability of proposed community projects, see http://tinyurl.com/4vn4pfa
* For more information about the definition of sustainability, the following web sites are recommended:
- Smart Communities Network: http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/overview/ovintro.shtml
- Sustainable Measures: http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/Sustainability/index.html
* For an article that summarizes nine well-used frameworks of sustainable development, visit http://www.nextstep.state.mn.us/res_detail.cfm?id=217
And finally, to convey the essence of sustainability in a few sketched lines, skim through over 175 images - diagrams, graphics, scematics, charts - at http://computingforsustainability.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/visualising-sustainability/