What Does Sustainability Mean?

In 1983 former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was appointed by the United Nations to run World Commission on Environment and Development. After four years of research and consultations, the commission published a report titled “Our Common Future”, which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.”

Photo by Cherie Birkner on Unsplash

In short, sustainability is the ability to survive, in our case on planet Earth, continually. In the 21st century, when people or media talk about sustainability, they mean the coexistence of us, humans, with Earth’s biosphere.

Sustainability comprises of three pillars: economic (profits), environmental (planet) and social (people). Sustainability acknowledges that ecological, social and economic aspects need to come together to create long-lasting prosperity.

Sustainability’s main objective is to keep balance within the natural resources that allow the cohabitation between humans and other species on Earth, while the planet supports that coexistence.

We often use sustainability to describe actions people take to reduce pressure on natural resources without draining them. Items described as sustainable can be reusable; don’t use chemicals and plastic that hurt the planet during the production process and don’t add to non-recyclable waste.

When describing sustainable improvements, we often talk about:

  • over-exploitation of natural resources (Producing items that are non-recyclable, use a lot of natural resources to be produced and add waste.),
  • lifestyle (Lifestyle changes, choices people make that can contribute to building a sustainable future.),
  • investments (Are the companies you invest in align with your sustainable values? Are they making progressive, sustainable changes? Maybe investing in local businesses is more in keeping with your values?),
  • minimalism (No more unnecessary purchasing.),
  • technological development (How technology can influence our sustainable future? Electric cars, renewable energy sources, etc.),
  • energy (Natural and renewable.),
  • manufacturing of goods (How are the goods you purchase manufactured? How far those goods travel before they reach you, the customer? How environmentally friendly/sustainable is the production process?).

Economic Sustainability means that communities worldwide have access to the financial resources they need to meet their needs, such as secure income. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in many parts of the world.

Social Sustainability means that human rights and basic needs are met. People have easy access to enough resources to keep their families and communities healthy and secure with leaders that represent all people and protect their personal, labour and cultural rights from discrimination. Regrettably, countries, instead of progressing on social sustainability, are regressing in many places around the world, including Europe.

Sustainability, as an idea was developed as a response to public dissatisfaction with the corporate world’s short-term profit-driven goals that kept investors happy, while the environment around the globe was deteriorating.

Despite the high upfront costs, businesses have started shifting focus from short-term profits to sustainable solutions. At the end of the day, what is the point of making profits if our planet is unlivable?

However, we still have to remember that sustainability and sustainable solutions need to work for all of us, not only for the citizens of wealthy countries. We are in the ecological crisis together, and our solutions need to be implemented across the globe equally.

You might have noticed that “sustainability” is often plastered all over the mainstream media. Celebrities love patronizing us, “little folk” and demand mindfulness and sustainability in our everyday lives. In reality, when you have the money, being sustainable (I know some very wealthy people who, apart from driving Tesla, care very little about sustainability and Tesla is just a status item for them.) is an easy choice. However, for the rest of us, sustainability often means introducing small changes and taking small steps to become a part of the solution that will significantly impact the environment around us (i.e. swap your bottle soap for a bar of soap. On average shower gel bottle takes 450 years to decompose!).

For me, sustainability means that my daily actions shouldn’t damage or leave unrepairable destruction behind. However, as most of us, I’m doing my sustainability bit on a budget, and the swaps and improved sustainable choices I introduce are small but consistent. Besides, changing your life, focusing on sustainability after years of careless wastefulness, requires building new, long-lasting habits. I believe that small but consistent steps should be taken to ensure our internal system and lifestyle aren’t overwhelmed and defaults back to old habits.

The minor changes every one of us can quickly introduce without breaking the bank include:

  • Buying loose fruits and vegetables, instead of the packed ones.
  • Cutting down on eating dairy and meat products.
  • Cooking more at home, instead of ordering take-aways.
  • Using public transport, walk or cycle whenever it’s possible.
  • Introducing a minimalistic lifestyle to your household and buy only what you need and what you know you will keep for a long time. Before you purchase anything, ask yourself if you will be comfortable keeping this thing in your life.
  • Buying second-hand whenever possible or swap clothes with friends.
  • Trying to replace plastic with bioplastic, glass and aluminum.
  • Repairing items instead of replacing them.

Let me know how you get along and don’t forget to share your sustainable swaps that are good for the environment as well as for your pocket.