What is Sustainability?


Sustainable development, or simply “sustainability” has been defined in a number of ways.  Perhaps the most common definition is the version proposed by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development:

“Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition, however, is vague, leaving it open to a very broad spectrum of interpretations as well as recommendations for how to achieve it.  All too often, sustainable development is both misunderstood and misrepresented.  An alternate definition is needed; one that communicates concisely how sustainability can be achieved.  One such definition is as follows:

Sustainability is the application of ecological principles to the design and management of human socioeconomic systems.

While this definition may be an improvement (I think so), it is not without its own shortcomings in terms of clarity.  More to the point, what are these ecological principles, and how may they be applied to human behavior, institutions, and technologies? 

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