Defining Sustainability

There are many misconceptions about sustainability and sustainable development and one of them is that they have to do with improving the environment and nothing else. This is untrue. The goal of sustainable movements and developments is, well, to create a system that can be sustained. This means that actions must not only benefit the environment in order to be sustainable, but must also benefit the economy and society as well.

Venn Diagram

Last semester, I took Intro to Environmental Science with Professor Karen Berger. Beger had guest speaker Rachel Madan, a University of Rochester alum, come in one day while she was in town. She talked about sustainable development and venn diagram (above) that is generally associated with it. Madan defined sustainability as the intersect of the benefits of environmental, social, and economic factors.


As an Ecorep, and an individual interested in sustainability, I had seen the diagram a few times before. However, after Madan’s talk, Berger assigned us a simple task. We had to look at this list of 255 ways to visualize sustainability and choose ones that were different but still valuable in the ways that they conveyed the information. As you can imagine, there was a lot of variation between some of the diagrams on the list. The one above was on the list, but so was the one pictured below. This was one of the diagrams that I chose for my assignment.


Honestly, the first thing that caught my eye is that the bus in the messy diagram looked just like a UR Shuttle. Upon second glance, I realized that this is a really cool depiction of sustainability. There are different roads with plenty of sustainable options; some are more sustainable than others, and some are more viable. Sustainability is in the middle, but you have to turn down a bunch of roads to get there. To me, this means that sustainability is an option, and a sustainable lifestyle is accomplished by a series of choices. I thought this was a really cool way to look at and it worked for me.


So, I encourage you to look into the list and find out what sustainability means to you. Let me know in the comments what you come up with or find interesting.



Photo Source:

Venn Diagram Photo source:


Written by Mariah Greico, Class of 2018

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