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Defining Sustainability
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Early on in nearly every discussion about sustainability the question arises, "What is the definition of sustainability?" Through the years, hundreds of definitions have been created. The launching point for most is the following statement from Our Common Future, a report issued in 1987 by the U. N. World Commission on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Brundtland Commission:

"Sustainable development is development that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

As a new organization, Sustainable Sonoma County worked for about eighteen months to define sustainability and created the following three sentence definition:

Photo "Sustainability secures people's quality of life within the means of nature in a way that is fair and equitable to all humanity, other species and to future generations. Sustainability recognizes the inter-relatedness of the economy, society, and environment. It requires that we not consume resources faster than they can be renewed nor produce wastes faster than they can be absorbed."

Then there is the two-word definition of sustainability proposed by Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint: "One Planet".

Below we offer some other definitions of sustainability. Each one reflects a different perspective and food for thought.

    Sustainability is equity over time. As a value, it refers to giving equal weight in your decisions to the future as well as the present. You might think of it as extending the Golden Rule through time, so that you do unto future generations (as well as to your present fellow beings) as you would have them do unto you.

Robert Gilman, Director
Context Institute

    Activities are sustainable whey they:
    1. use materials in continuing cycles
    2. use continuously reliable sources of energy
    3. come mainly from the potentials of being human, i.e., communication, creativity, coordination, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development.

    Activities are non-sustainable when they:
    1. require continual inputs of non-renewable resources,
    2. use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal
    3. cause cumulative degradation of the environment,
    4. require resources in quantities that could never be sustainable for all people,
    5. lead to the extinction of other life forms.

Guideposts for a Sustainable Future Project
M. Nickerson

    Sustainability is part of a trend to...consider the whole instead of the specific. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation...Sustainability is not all about regressing to primitive living conditions. It is about understanding our situation, and developing as communities in ways that are equitable, and make sense ecologically and economically.

Center for Sustainable Communities

    Sustainable means being able to keep going or able to endure; sustainability, then, is acting in such a way that life on Earth endures on into the future, providing for the needs of all citizens and creatures while maintaining the natural functions, resources, and beauty of the planet...Sustainability is rooted in looking to the inherent workings of nature as a model, with the idea that the natural systems of the world do work in balance to perpetuate life, and by working in harmony with those natural systems, we can sustain our own lives.

Sustaining the Earth
Debra Dadd-Redalia

    We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

2000 The Earth Charter


Edwin Datschefski
Green Product Designer

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