What is Sustainability?

We hardly believe that sustainability is fashionably fascinating. It melts together holistic and tangible concepts and in order to make it concrete, every day we show you what established companies are doing to reach sustainabile goals.

Today we launch “Sustainability Pills” in collaboration with SUMAS, Sustainability Management School, the leading educational institution specializing in the field of sustainability.

What is sustainability?

With the term sustainability popping up more and more in conversations, one might think that the answer to this question is a simple one.

In academic literature alone there are more than 300 definitions of sustainability. So what defines sustainability exactly?

The Oxford dictionary simplistically defines sustainability as “the property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.“

However, this definition does little to help us to understand what sustainability has really come to mean in our societies today.

An environmental-only approach?

For many people and businesses, discussions of sustainability are centered around preserving environmental resources, addressing climate change, and “saving the planet” so to speak.

But this narrative ignores the fact that human beings are inseparable from our environment, and that the need to be sustainable has emerged from industrialization and hundreds of years of dominant groups treating certain people and places as being disposable.

Recycling, saving water, reducing plastic, reforestation (etc) are all deeply needed and important aspects of sustainability but it is not the whole story.

People, planet, profit?

Another popular understanding of sustainability today is one that suggests that the concepts of people, planet, and profit are of equal importance.

It is clear when looking at the state of the world today, that profit is too often prioritized over people and the planet, with dire consequences. The concept of economy as an equal pillar to people and planet also often perpetuates the false narrative that infinite economic growth is possible on a planet with finite resources, or that money is as important as the lives of people or having clean water and food to eat.

This does not mean that the economy must be completely ignored for the purpose of sustainability.

Rather it means that a focus on solving social and environmental issues can lead to a livable planet, poverty reduction, and economic resilience too.

Sustainability is a complex and holistic topic with many things about it to understand and unpack.

This is just the beginning. In the next chapter we will go through “What is Social Inclusion”?

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