Definitions of Sustainability and Sustainable Development

Read these short introductions and watch the video lectures that follow. Taking sustainability as meaning "meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of the future," do you think this is an achievable target for the human race to meet, or are our current consumption trends only going to become worse?

Ecologist C. S. Holling forwarded the notion that "Sustainability is the capacity to create, test, and maintain adaptive capability". That adaptive capability arises from the concept that all systems, natural and human, are in constant cycles of creation and destruction, invention and revolution, some of these passing by rapidly, and some quite slow relative to the human time scale. We develop opportunity, and in doing so, we must craft sustainable development.

Holling says, "Sustainable futures are ones in which the basic means of human livelihood get easier, human opportunities become richer, and nature's diversity is more sustained – and not only in the rich parts of the world. Utopian, perhaps, but the resilience of nature and the ingenuity of people would make it feasible, if our institutions and those who utilize and control them had sufficient flexibility and vision".

This is a compelling challenge for our future, as individuals, as communities, and as organizations and institutions of government, commerce, and shared values and purpose. Vision is about changing the world. Visions are exclusively about changes that would happen only because you want to realize them they change an undesirable trajectory. A shared vision can be a powerful motivation towards a positive future. For a sustainable future, our vision must be specific, not fuzzy, and it must couple the human knowledge of the past, while taking action for practical change for our future.

In the end, any vision for a more sustainable future, without action, is meaningless. We must create and own our future by melding our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations with meaningful, purposeful action. Only then we can say to future generations, our children and our children's children, ...yes, we thought of you.


Sustainable Development

In the late 20th century, "sustainable development" emerged as the appropriate pattern of resource use to guide economic and physical development, within the context of long-view thinking about environmental and social imperatives. While there are no immediate answers or action plans that will ensure global, national, or even local sustainability, there are central organizing principles that can better guide development in a more sustainable direction. Sustainability requires enhanced management of the capital resources we have in our society and on the Earth. The three major types of capital are Natural Capital, Economic Capital, and Social Capital. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as "meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". 

Source: Greg Möller,
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Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2021, 12:55 PM