5 Definitions of Sustainability

Definition One

Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary

1 : capable of being sustained

2 a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture>

  b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>

sus·tain·abil·i·ty -ˌstā-nə-ˈbi-lə-tē noun

sus·tain·ably -ˈstā-nə-blē adverb


Definition Two

In 2005, Amory B. Lovins, cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, along with Karlson Hargroves and Michael H. Smith, co-founders of the non-profit Natural Edge Project, released a book entitled The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century. The authors identify the following principles to guide modern sustainability:

  1. Dealing transparently and systemically with risk, uncertainty and irreversibility.
  2. Ensuring appropriate valuation, appreciation and restoration of nature.
  3. Integration of environmental, social, human and economic goals in policies and activities.
  4. Equal opportunity and community participation/sustainable community.
  5. Conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity.
  6. Ensuring inter-generational equity.
  7. Recognizing the global integration of localities.
  8. A commitment to best practices.
  9. No net loss of human capital or natural capital.
  10. The principle of continuous improvement.
  11. The need for good governance.


Definition Three

Sustainable Development, as defined in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission (formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).

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


Definition Four

University of Rochester’s definition of Sustainable Development

Mission as a Research University

Our mission is to pursue research and promote education and, through these often multidisciplinary activities, to increase understanding of sustainable development in local, national, and global communities.

Operational Stewardship

We are committed to sustainable development and operating practices through the responsible management of building design, construction, and renovation, landscape practices, energy use, water and waste management, emissions, transportation, and procurement, within a framework of regulatory compliance and fiscal prudence.

Community Responsibility

As a major employer and home to the premier medical research institution and health care provider in upstate New York, the University of Rochester has a special responsibility to promote sustainability in its

research, curricular, clinical, and outreach efforts and to play a proactive and collaborative role in contributing to an environmentally healthy community.


Definition Five

Our world, the earth, has been given to us as a gift with limited resources; sustainability is the act of not being a glutton of the earth. Each human knows in their heart that they can be better. Consider the earth as our temple; you do not own the temple, revere, care for and respect the earth as you would your children and your elders. Those who respect have the traits of conservation, goodness, giving, self-control and honesty. – Patricia Beaumont

3 Replies to “5 Definitions of Sustainability”

  1. I agree with the article – we need to only use what we need, not what we want. Far too many of use take, take and take – the world is small and we are running out of essentials. Let’s hope we all start changing for the better 🙂

  2. Taking action is the number one most important factor for sustainability. Many times people agree with the concept only to not take action. We all need to participate. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I think all 5 of the above definitions are pretty much accurate. The more research I do on the topic of sustainable development, the more I think it’s important that other people, particularly those running businesses, need to start taking action.

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