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The history of sustainability traces human-dominated ecological systems from the earliest civilizations to the present day. Herman Daly has suggested three broad criteria for ecological sustainability: A promising direction towards sustainable development is to design systems that are flexible and reversible.

Among the many ways that sustainability has been defined, the simplest and most fundamental is: “the ability to sustain” or, put another way, “the capacity to endure.”.
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Julian Agyeman Ph.D. FRSA FRGS is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, Medford-Boston, MA, USA. He is the originator of the concept of ‘just sustainabilities,’ the full integration of social justice and sustainability.
Julian Agyeman Ph.D. FRSA FRGS is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, Medford-Boston, MA, USA. He is the originator of the concept of ‘just sustainabilities,’ the full integration of social justice and sustainability.
Prevention SustainAbilities: Planning for Success (OPEN) Building on the foundation of its introductory companion course, Prevention SustainAbilities: Understanding the Basics, this interactive self-paced course walks practitioners through a step-by-step process for developing a written plan to sustain successful prevention practices.

Sustainability is the process of maintaining change in a balanced fashion, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following.

A plethora of sustainability projects, policies, plans, and campaigns have been advanced in the public and private sector, on a local, regional, and planetary scale. It can mean very different things to different people, and disagreement, debate, and power struggles can emerge over these meanings.

Yet efforts to achieve this balance have themselves been, very often, far from balanced. Very often non-market forms of sustainability can work synergistically with or be incorporated by market-oriented forms.

Yet insofar they can't, for instance if sustainability goals are deemed irrelevant to or at odds with markets and competitiveness, they can be ignored or become contentious, and may lose out. To cite just one example explored on our site, we see this in one of the leading forms of urban sustainability planning in the United States today: Many of these initiatives emphasize market-rate development over affordable housing — much like most contemporary urban development, and despite efforts of advocates to increase low-income targets.

From a sustainability perspective, this has had unintended consequences: More affluent residents, who typically drive cars, have moved into expensive green buildings near transit stops in the densely packed urban core.

Meanwhile, low-income people, the primary users of public transit, have been displaced to low-rise suburbs, where there are fewer transit options, and they are forced to drive. Sustainability can also encompass corporate philanthropy — when that philanthropy is strategic. Over twenty years ago we chose the name SustainAbility to reflect both our goal and our conviction that it is possible.

We invite you to share in this pursuit. We have made it our mission to inspire transformative business leadership on the sustainability agenda. See how we use your personal data by reading our terms of use and privacy policy. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Can our society endure? The change we need To endure, we as a society must transform our markets — both how we produce and consume, and the very ways in which we define and measure value and progress.

Business is crucial — but we need new ways of doing it To achieve this transformation, we need the capacity of business to innovate and to execute, meeting market needs swiftly, effectively and on a global scale. Modern sanitation systems and advances in medicine protected large populations from disease.

In the late 20th century, environmental problems became global in scale. In the 21st century, there is increasing global awareness of the threat posed by the human greenhouse effect , produced largely by forest clearing and the burning of fossil fuels.

The philosophical and analytic framework of sustainability draws on and connects with many different disciplines and fields; in recent years an area that has come to be called sustainability science has emerged. Sustainability is studied and managed over many scales levels or frames of reference of time and space and in many contexts of environmental, social and economic organization.

The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity sustainability of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighbourhoods, home gardens, individual lives, individual goods and services [ clarification needed ] , occupations, lifestyles, behaviour patterns and so on. In short, it can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it.

The sheer size and complexity of the planetary ecosystem has proved problematic for the design of practical measures to reach global sustainability. To shed light on the big picture, explorer and sustainability campaigner Jason Lewis has drawn parallels to other, more tangible closed systems. A major driver of human impact on Earth systems is the destruction of biophysical resources , and especially, the Earth's ecosystems.

The environmental impact of a community or of humankind as a whole depends both on population and impact per person, which in turn depends in complex ways on what resources are being used, whether or not those resources are renewable, and the scale of the human activity relative to the carrying capacity of the ecosystems involved.

Careful resource management can be applied at many scales, from economic sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and industry, to work organizations, the consumption patterns of households and individuals and to the resource demands of individual goods and services. One of the initial attempts to express human impact mathematically was developed in the s and is called the I PAT formula.

This formulation attempts to explain human consumption in terms of three components: The equation is expressed:. In recent years, concepts based on re- cycling resources are increasingly gaining importance. The most prominent among these concepts might be the Circular Economy , with its comprehensive support by the Chinese and the European Union. There is also a broad range of similar concepts or schools of thought, including cradle-to-cradle laws of ecology, looped and performance economy, regenerative design, industrial ecology, biomimicry, and the blue economy.

These concepts seem intuitively to be more sustainable than the current linear economic system. The reduction of resource inputs into and waste and emission leakage out of the system reduces resource depletion and environmental pollution. However, these simple assumptions are not sufficient to deal with the involved systemic complexity and disregards potential trade-offs.

For example, the social dimension of sustainability seems to be only marginally addressed in many publications on the Circular Economy, and there are cases that require different or additional strategies, like purchasing new, more energy efficient equipment. Sustainability measurement is the quantitative basis for the informed management of sustainability.

They are applied over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Some of the best known and most widely used sustainability measures include corporate sustainability reporting , Triple Bottom Line accounting , World Sustainability Society, Circles of Sustainability , and estimates of the quality of sustainability governance for individual countries using the Environmental Sustainability Index and Environmental Performance Index.

Companies such as Lieef www. According to the most recent July revision of the official United Nations World Population Prospects, the world population is projected to reach 8. This increase will be distributed among the population aged 15—59 1. In contrast, the population of the more developed regions is expected to undergo only slight increase from 1. Emerging economies like those of China and India aspire to the living standards of the Western world as does the non-industrialized world in general.

At the global scale, scientific data now indicates that humans are living beyond the carrying capacity of planet Earth and that this cannot continue indefinitely. This scientific evidence comes from many sources but is presented in detail in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the planetary boundaries framework.

The Ecological footprint measures human consumption in terms of the biologically productive land needed to provide the resources, and absorb the wastes of the average global citizen.

In it required 2. The figure right examines sustainability at the scale of individual countries by contrasting their Ecological Footprint with their UN Human Development Index a measure of standard of living. The graph shows what is necessary for countries to maintain an acceptable standard of living for their citizens while, at the same time, maintaining sustainable resource use.

The general trend is for higher standards of living to become less sustainable. As always, population growth has a marked influence on levels of consumption and the efficiency of resource use. Information generated by reports at the national, regional and city scales confirm the global trend towards societies that are becoming less sustainable over time. Romanian American economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen , a progenitor in economics and a paradigm founder of ecological economics , has argued that the carrying capacity of Earth — that is, Earth's capacity to sustain human populations and consumption levels — is bound to decrease sometime in the future as Earth's finite stock of mineral resources is presently being extracted and put to use.

At the enterprise scale, carrying capacity now also plays a critical role in making it possible to measure and report the sustainability performance of individual organizations. This is most clearly demonstrated through use of Context-Based Sustainability CBS tools, methods and metrics, including the MultiCapital Scorecard, which have been in development since Thus, rather than simply measure and report changes in relative terms from one period to another, CBS makes it possible to compare the impacts of organizations to organization-specific norms, standards or thresholds for what they the impacts would have to be in order to be empirically sustainable i.

At a fundamental level, energy flow and biogeochemical cycling set an upper limit on the number and mass of organisms in any ecosystem. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is an international synthesis by over of the world's leading biological scientists that analyzes the state of the Earth's ecosystems and provides summaries and guidelines for decision-makers.

It concludes that human activity is having a significant and escalating impact on the biodiversity of world ecosystems , reducing both their resilience and biocapacity. The report refers to natural systems as humanity's "life-support system", providing essential " ecosystem services ".

The assessment measures 24 ecosystem services concluding that only four have shown improvement over the last 50 years, 15 are in serious decline, and five are in a precarious condition. The Sustainable Development Goals SDGs are the current harmonized set of seventeen future international development targets. The Official Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on 25 September has 92 paragraphs, with the main paragraph 51 outlining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its associated targets.

This included the following seventeen goals: As of August , there were proposed targets for these goals and proposed indicators to show compliance. Adopted by the United Nations member states at the time and more than twenty international organizations , these goals were advanced to help achieve the following sustainable development standards by According to the data that member countries represented to the United Nations , Cuba was the only country in the world in that met the World Wide Fund for Nature 's definition of sustainable development , with an ecological footprint of less than 1.

Healthy ecosystems provide vital goods and services to humans and other organisms. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services and the first of these is environmental management.

This direct approach is based largely on information gained from earth science , environmental science and conservation biology. However, this is management at the end of a long series of indirect causal factors that are initiated by human consumption , so a second approach is through demand management of human resource use.

Management of human consumption of resources is an indirect approach based largely on information gained from economics. Herman Daly has suggested three broad criteria for ecological sustainability: At the global scale and in the broadest sense environmental management involves the oceans , freshwater systems, land and atmosphere , but following the sustainability principle of scale it can be equally applied to any ecosystem from a tropical rainforest to a home garden.

At a March meeting of the Copenhagen Climate Council , 2, climate experts from 80 countries issued a keynote statement that there is now "no excuse" for failing to act on global warming and that without strong carbon reduction "abrupt or irreversible" shifts in climate may occur that "will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with". Other human impacts on the atmosphere include the air pollution in cities, the pollutants including toxic chemicals like nitrogen oxides , sulfur oxides , volatile organic compounds and airborne particulate matter that produce photochemical smog and acid rain , and the chlorofluorocarbons that degrade the ozone layer.

Anthropogenic particulates such as sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere reduce the direct irradiance and reflectance albedo of the Earth 's surface. Global dimming may have disturbed the global water cycle by reducing evaporation and rainfall in some areas. It also creates a cooling effect and this may have partially masked the effect of greenhouse gases on global warming.

The remaining freshwater is found in glaciers, lakes, rivers, wetlands, the soil, aquifers and atmosphere. Due to the water cycle, fresh water supply is continually replenished by precipitation, however there is still a limited amount necessitating management of this resource. Awareness of the global importance of preserving water for ecosystem services has only recently emerged as, during the 20th century, more than half the world's wetlands have been lost along with their valuable environmental services.

Increasing urbanization pollutes clean water supplies and much of the world still does not have access to clean, safe water. Ocean circulation patterns have a strong influence on climate and weather and, in turn, the food supply of both humans and other organisms. Scientists have warned of the possibility, under the influence of climate change, of a sudden alteration in circulation patterns of ocean currents that could drastically alter the climate in some regions of the globe.

Loss of biodiversity stems largely from the habitat loss and fragmentation produced by the human appropriation of land for development, forestry and agriculture as natural capital is progressively converted to man-made capital. Land use change is fundamental to the operations of the biosphere because alterations in the relative proportions of land dedicated to urbanisation , agriculture , forest , woodland , grassland and pasture have a marked effect on the global water, carbon and nitrogen biogeochemical cycles and this can impact negatively on both natural and human systems.

Present-day forests occupy about a quarter of the world's ice-free land with about half of these occurring in the tropics. Food is essential to life.

Feeding more than seven billion human bodies takes a heavy toll on the Earth's resources. Environmental problems associated with industrial agriculture and agribusiness are now being addressed through such movements as sustainable agriculture, organic farming and more sustainable business practices. The underlying driver of direct human impacts on the environment is human consumption.

Consumption of goods and services can be analysed and managed at all scales through the chain of consumption, starting with the effects of individual lifestyle choices and spending patterns, through to the resource demands of specific goods and services, the impacts of economic sectors, through national economies to the global economy.

The ideas of embodied resource use the total resources needed to produce a product or service , resource intensity , and resource productivity are important tools for understanding the impacts of consumption. Key resource categories relating to human needs are food , energy , materials and water. In , the International Resource Panel , hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP , published the first global scientific assessment on the impacts of consumption and production [] and identified priority actions for developed and developing countries.

The study found that the most critical impacts are related to ecosystem health, human health and resource depletion. From a production perspective, it found that fossil-fuel combustion processes, agriculture and fisheries have the most important impacts.

Meanwhile, from a final consumption perspective, it found that household consumption related to mobility, shelter, food and energy-using products cause the majority of life-cycle impacts of consumption. The Sun's energy, stored by plants primary producers during photosynthesis , passes through the food chain to other organisms to ultimately power all living processes.

Since the industrial revolution the concentrated energy of the Sun stored in fossilized plants as fossil fuels has been a major driver of technology which, in turn, has been the source of both economic and political power. Reducing greenhouse emissions, is being tackled at all scales, ranging from tracking the passage of carbon through the carbon cycle [] to the commercialization of renewable energy , developing less carbon-hungry technology and transport systems and attempts by individuals to lead carbon neutral lifestyles by monitoring the fossil fuel use embodied in all the goods and services they use.

Water security and food security are inextricably linked. In the decade —60 human water withdrawals were four times greater than the previous decade. This rapid increase resulted from scientific and technological developments impacting through the economy —especially the increase in irrigated land, growth in industrial and power sectors, and intensive dam construction on all continents. This altered the water cycle of rivers and lakes , affected their water quality and had a significant impact on the global water cycle.

Water efficiency is being improved on a global scale by increased demand management , improved infrastructure, improved water productivity of agriculture, minimising the water intensity embodied water of goods and services, addressing shortages in the non-industrialized world, concentrating food production in areas of high productivity, and planning for climate change , such as through flexible system design.

A promising direction towards sustainable development is to design systems that are flexible and reversible. The American Public Health Association APHA defines a "sustainable food system" [] [] as "one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment.

A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities. It recommends the Mediterranean diet which is associated with health and longevity and is low in meat , rich in fruits and vegetables , low in added sugar and limited salt, and low in saturated fatty acids; the traditional source of fat in the Mediterranean is olive oil , rich in monounsaturated fat.

The healthy rice-based Japanese diet is also high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Both diets are low in meat and saturated fats and high in legumes and other vegetables; they are associated with a low incidence of ailments and low environmental impact.

At the global level the environmental impact of agribusiness is being addressed through sustainable agriculture and organic farming. At the local level there are various movements working towards local food production, more productive use of urban wastelands and domestic gardens including permaculture , urban horticulture , local food , slow food , sustainable gardening , and organic gardening.

Sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. The sustainable seafood movement has gained momentum as more people become aware about both overfishing and environmentally destructive fishing methods.

As global population and affluence has increased, so has the use of various materials increased in volume, diversity and distance transported. Included here are raw materials, minerals, synthetic chemicals including hazardous substances , manufactured products, food, living organisms and waste. Developed countries' citizens consume an average of 16 tons of those four key resources per capita, ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries with resource consumption levels far beyond what is likely sustainable.

Sustainable use of materials has targeted the idea of dematerialization , converting the linear path of materials extraction, use, disposal in landfill to a circular material flow that reuses materials as much as possible, much like the cycling and reuse of waste in nature. Synthetic chemical production has escalated following the stimulus it received during the second World War.

Chemical production includes everything from herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to domestic chemicals and hazardous substances. Although most synthetic chemicals are harmless there needs to be rigorous testing of new chemicals, in all countries, for adverse environmental and health effects. International legislation has been established to deal with the global distribution and management of dangerous goods.

The classification of the toxic carcinogenic agents is handle by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Every economic activity produces material that can be classified as waste. To reduce waste, industry, business and government are now mimicking nature by turning the waste produced by industrial metabolism into resource. Dematerialization is being encouraged through the ideas of industrial ecology , ecodesign [] and ecolabelling.

In addition to the well-established "reduce, reuse and recycle", shoppers are using their purchasing power for ethical consumerism. The European Union is expected to table by the end of an ambitious Circular Economy package which is expected to include concrete legislative proposals on waste management, ecodesign and limits on land fills.

On one account, sustainability "concerns the specification of a set of actions to be taken by present persons that will not diminish the prospects of future persons to enjoy levels of consumption, wealth, utility, or welfare comparable to those enjoyed by present persons".

The developed world population is only increasing slightly but consumption levels are unsustainable. The challenge for sustainability is to curb and manage Western consumption while raising the standard of living of the developing world without increasing its resource use and environmental impact. This must be done by using strategies and technology that break the link between, on the one hand, economic growth and on the other, environmental damage and resource depletion.

A recent UNEP report proposes a green economy defined as one that "improves human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities": The report makes three key findings: However, there is a period of job losses in transition, which requires investment in re-skilling and re-educating the workforce".

Several key areas have been targeted for economic analysis and reform: Historically there has been a close correlation between economic growth and environmental degradation: This trend is clearly demonstrated on graphs of human population numbers, economic growth, and environmental indicators.

There is concern that, unless resource use is checked, modern global civilization will follow the path of ancient civilizations that collapsed through overexploitation of their resource base. In economic and environmental fields, the term decoupling is becoming increasingly used in the context of economic production and environmental quality. When used in this way, it refers to the ability of an economy to grow without incurring corresponding increases in environmental pressure.

Ecological economics includes the study of societal metabolism, the throughput of resources that enter and exit the economic system in relation to environmental quality. Exactly how, if, or to what extent this can be achieved is a subject of much debate. In the International Resource Panel , hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP , warned that by the human race could be devouring billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year—three times its current rate of consumption—unless nations can make serious attempts at decoupling.

By comparison, the average person in India today consumes four tons per year. Sustainability studies analyse ways to reduce resource intensity the amount of resource e. There are conflicting views whether improvements in technological efficiency and innovation will enable a complete decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation.

On the one hand, it has been claimed repeatedly by efficiency experts that resource use intensity i. For example, there are certain minimum unavoidable material requirements for growing food, and there are limits to making automobiles, houses, furniture, and other products lighter and thinner without the risk of losing their necessary functions.

Consequently, long-term sustainability requires the transition to a steady state economy in which total GDP remains more or less constant, as has been advocated for decades by Herman Daly and others in the ecological economics community. A different proposed solution to partially decouple economic growth from environmental degradation is the restore approach. Participants in such efforts are encouraged to voluntarily donate towards nature conservation a small fraction of the financial savings they experience through a more frugal use of resources.

These financial savings would normally lead to rebound effects, but a theoretical analysis suggests that donating even a small fraction of the experienced savings can potentially more than eliminate rebound effects. The economic importance of nature is indicated by the use of the expression ecosystem services to highlight the market relevance of an increasingly scarce natural world that can no longer be regarded as both unlimited and free.

SustainAbilities™ recycles electronics and other materials while providing training and employment opportunities to person with disabilities. Not only is Abilities providing a service by giving meaningful "green" job skill training, we are also providing an environmentally . Among the many ways that sustainability has been defined, the simplest and most fundamental is: “the ability to sustain” or, put another way, “the capacity to endure.”. Sustainabilities The pursuit of "sustainability" is one of the most widely embraced solutions to the gravest concerns of our era—from planetary urbanization, to climate change, to global inequality.