What is Sustainability?

Educators for sustainability never begin a conversation by defining sustainability.  We don't define it because that is not the best way to understand what we mean by it. Many great concepts and processes share this particular difficulty--grace and democracy among them. At the Cloud Institute, we prefer educating for sustainability to talking about sustainability. Having said that, people still ask us "what is sustainability?" So, the following is a list of definitions we have collected from various experts within the field.

Definitions of Sustainability

“The possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever” - John R. Ehrenfeld

"Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems." - Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living. (Gland, Switzerland: 1991). (IUCN - The World Conservation Union, United Nations Environment Programme, World Wide Fund for Nature).

"Sustainability is 'long-term, cultural, economic and environmental health and vitality' with emphasis on long-term, 'together with the importance of linking our social, financial, and environmental well-being." - Sustainable Seattle

"Sustainability encompasses the simple principle of taking from the earth only what it can provide indefinitely, thus leaving future generations no less than we have access to ourselves." - Friends of the Earth Scotland

"Sustainability may be described as our responsibility to proceed in a way that will sustain life that will allow our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to live comfortably in a friendly, clean, and healthy world." - Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Council

"Sustainability is meeting the needs of all humans, being able to do so on a finite planet for generations to come while ensuring some degree of openness and flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances." -Jerry Sturmer, Santa Barbara South Coast Community Indicators

"Sustainability is a dynamic condition which requires a basic understanding of the interconnections and interdependency among ecological, economic and social systems. Sustainability means providing a rich quality of life for all, and accomplishing this within the means of nature." - Jaimie P. Cloud, Cloud Institute

"A sustainable society is one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support." - Donella H. Meadows, et al., The Sustainability Institute, "Beyond the Limits"

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. - World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. (Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 8. (Frequently referred to as the Brundtland Report after Gro Harlem Brundtland)

"Sustainable Development is positive change which does not undermine the environmental or social systems on which we depend. It requires a coordinated approach to planning and policy making that involves public participation. Its success depends on widespread understanding of the critical relationship between people and their environment and the will to make necessary changes." - Hamilton Wentworth Regional Council

"Sustainability is an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations." - Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce