What is Sustainability?

sustainable development-approach-circles

Source: ConocoPhillips Company 2006 Sustainable Development Report

The pursuit of sustainability can mean many different things to different people. Most commonly it means trying to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Bruntland Commission) or harvesting resources without depleting or damaging them.

Sustainability is more than environmental impacts – it means achieving long term prosperity for all.

Furthermore, ‘Positive development’ goes beyond sustainable development (as coined by Janis Birkeland) to try to repair the living systems that humans have disrupted. The challenge is achieving this in a finite world.

For a ten minute overview of what sustainability might mean in the business context, here is an interview with Adam Werbach for the Harvard Business Review:

Here’s a 21 minute Australian presentation about why sustainability is important. Nearer the end, the speaker explains why it’s important to use metrics to inform planning and measure progress. The speaker is Dr Badin Gibbes from The University of Queensland. This presentation was part of the 2011 Gold Coast Sustainability Forum, hosted by GreenBiz Check:

For more videos on sustainable development, visit the website for the Rio + 20 event in 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

For recommended reading refer to the resources page.

Australian author and leader, Ian Lowe helps to ‘join the dots’ about our finite world and how we might put together effective policies to reorient our economy, and communities towards sustainability. Here he presents a one hour presentation to the National Press Club on 29 May 2013.

The NSW Government has defined sustainability and sustainable development concisely here.

Australia’s Environment Protection Act 1970 – SECT 1B now has a Principle of integration of economic, social and environmental considerations stating:

  1. Sound environmental practices and procedures should be adopted as a basis
    for ecologically sustainable development for the benefit of all human beings
    and the environment.
  2. This requires the effective integration of economic, social and
    environmental considerations in decision making processes with the need to
    improve community well-being and the benefit of future generations.
  3. The measures adopted should be cost-effective and in proportion to the
    significance of the environmental problems being addressed.

Progressing-93x130For a history of measuring sustainability in Australia and more background on sustainable development check out a 32 page report entitled ‘Are We Progressing’? It was published by the Australia Collaboration in February 2012 and written by academics from the Australian National University, Andrew Macintosh and Deb Wilkinson.

Along similar lines, the Australian Parliamentary Library has published a summary of sustainability reporting here.

For a definition of eco-efficiency and a learning module, visit the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.