Sustainability is the practice of making ethical and environmental choices that allow for natural resources and our planet to regenerate in such a manner as to ensure that we continue to be able to use them indefinitely into the future.
The term, "sustainability" has been in wide use, especially since the turn of the millennium, and definitions abound. In Our Common Future the Bruntland Commission defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
One common misuse of the sustainability is to pair it with sustainable growth. There are physical limits within our universe that we all remember from school, for example matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Another universal could be stated, growth cannot continue forever, but the oxymoron, sustainable growth, pervades our society. Economic growth is touted as the safety net that will catch those in poverty and hoist them out, but growth can never be sustainable over sufficiently long spans of time. Economic growth, like all other forms, is rooted deeply in material extraction from the earth, some materials renewable like timber or fish (although both have been exploited unsustainably throughout human history be harvesting the capital with the interest) and effectively non-renewable resources like minerals, soil, groundwater, and notably, fossil fuels.
Although used as a synonym for sustainable growth, there is a key distinction that should separate these two terms. Growth relies on the continual addition of material - a quantitative increase. Development implies a qualitative increase, which can be sustained. Within limits, not extracting beyond the regenerative capacity of ecosystems, and not polluting beyond the assimilative capacity of ecosystems, we can foster development. Perhaps this means few richest will get poorer, many Americans will have to live with less, while many still in poverty will finally be granted the luxuries of the western world.
- ↑ Our Common Future, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987. Published as Annex to General Assembly document A/42/427, Development and International Co-operation: Environment August 2, 1987.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Daly, Herman and Townsend, Kenneth. Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics. Chapter 14: Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem. Published Nov. 1992. ISBN 0-262-54068-1.