What is Sustainability?
Most people are familiar with the topics of global warming, greenhouse gases, and climate change. These are some of the evironmental concerns most publicized related to Sustainability. But the general public is not familiar with the full concept of Sustainability as an area of research and a call to action.
Sustainability is more than the next generation of the environmental movement, though it has been brought to life by the spark of global climate concerns and threatened natural resources. Sustainability encomplasses concerns about the environment, the economy, and social justice. It espouses that when we make policies, develop technologies, seek to grow the world market place, we need to consider impacts on the planetary health, responsible profit-seeking, and the welfare of people.
To "sustain" something meaning to maintain or support it. Faced with the challenges to our planet from decades of carbon pollution, the word "Sustainability" is now being used to capture the work being done to save mankind from a future that promises to make life difficult with dramatic climate, food, water, ocean and land changes. Sustainability scholars look at predictions for what's coming, and solutions for mediating it.
What is Sustainable Development?
For at least 30 years now, going back to the 1970s when environmental activists established the first Earth Day, the ideas of protecting ecosystems and growing economies have been at odds. The concept of "Sustainable Development" brings them together. It challenges advocates from both sides of the fence to work together on how we can keep a prosperous marketplace without continuting to sacrifice the health of the planet.
The most often quoted definition of Sustainable Development came from a report by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: “Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Sustainable Development challenges us to consider how people and the planet co-exist in complex systems. If we are to move forward without depleating natural resources, disregarding pollution, or exploiting one social group for the profit of another, we need some very different thinking. However, the possibilities for new inter-relationships and advances are more thrilling, and essential, than the threat of doing nothing.