What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a very broad term, one with many definitions. The United Nations defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations). That definition can be extended to sustainability in general to mean what is done will meet the needs of the present and not compromise the ability for people in the future to meet their own needs.

So essentially sustainability means that you are able to solve a current problem without making it harder or impossible to solve problems in the future.

Sustainability can be broken into three “pillars” - environmental, economical, and social. Each pillar has its own needs and the intersection between the three is considered sustainable.

Environmental

Environmental sustainability means that the solution considers the environment as an actor in the problem and realizes that the solution may affect nature. Looking at sustainability through an environmental focus will reveal the effects that humans have on their natural surrounding. An example of this might be developing a new building. Environmental aspects of this might be the loss of habitats from cutting down the trees, the pollution generated via the construction and operation of the building, and the way the building changes some of the wind dynamics of the area.

Economical

Economical sustainability means that the solution considers the economy as an actor in the problem and realizes that the solution may affect wealth. Looking at sustainability through an economical focus will reveal the effects that humans have on the economy. An example of this might be developing a new building. Economic aspects of this might be the cost to clear the trees, the cost of constructing the building, the cost to power the building on a variety of energy sources, and the income the building may generate based on a variety of factors.

Social

Social sustainability means that the solution considers society as an actor in the problem and realizes that the solution may affect people. Looking at sustainability through a social focus will reveal the effects that humans have on society. An example of this might be developing a new building. Social aspects of this might be the waste material generated by the building affecting people living near it, noise pollution, increased traffic near the building, and who the owners of the building will hire, especially if there is discrimination involved.

Sustainability

So sustainability can be seen as the intersection of all three pillars. If each has its needs met with little regrets, the solution is considered sustainable; Sustainability is the balance between the environment, economy, and society.

I will cover each pillar of sustainability in depth in future posts.

Written on November 29, 2017