Section 2.1: What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a complex concept, and there is no universal agreement on its definition. However, from an environmental perspective, we can define sustainability as the ability of natural systems to endure and replenish and remain biologically diverse and productive.

Perhaps the most common definition of sustainability is in a United Nation’s report entitled, “Our Common Future” (Brundtland Commission) published in 1987:

Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (p.41)

Others have expanded this definition to include concepts such as respecting nature and communities, maintaining ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and world peace.

The key to understanding sustainability is to understand the inter-connectivity between humans and nature. In the 21st century, we operate in an anthropogenic world in which humans have reshaped ecological patterns and processes. As such, there is much discussion that we have now entered a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene Era where human activities have a significant impact on the globe’s ecosystems and geology.

As a result, not only do humans affect the future direction of the Earth, but we are also the only ones who can effect meaningful change to ensure the survival of both mankind and nature.

Sustainability and sustainable development, therefore, need to balance the world’s social and ecological needs and consider carefully the intricacies of how interconnected we are; and the impact of our actions. Business plays a central role in sustainable development.

A video summarizing the pathways necessary to achieve a sustainable world is included here:

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