Although businesses have different ways of defining sustainability, in its simplest essence the word implies the ability to maintain a certain status or process in existing systems. The most frequent use of the term “sustainability” is connected to ecological systems. In this definition it refers to an ecosystems ability to function and maintain productivity for prolonged periods. Practically, sustainability refers to the coordination of economic, social and environmental, issues in support of the long term viability people and the planet.
Although sustainability is defined in different ways, by different groups, (ie: sustainable development sustainable community, sustainable society, sustainable agriculture, sustainable business and sustainable production) most of these definitions share a common reliance on living within certain limits.
Here are seven different but related definitions of sustainability: While this is hardly a complete summary it does encompass some of the differences as well as some of the similarities between definitions.
Merriam-Webster: Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.
Life Sciences: Capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage sustainable development.
Environmental Science: The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance: The committee is developing sustainability standards for products that use energy.
Ecologically: A means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in the very long term.
EPA: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.
World Commission on Environment and Development: Forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needsn
Business: A project that is of economic, social and environmental benefit.
These are but a few of the many variations in the way sustainability is defined. The one thing that they may unite these and other definitions is the fact that sustainability is one of humanities highest and most worthy aspirations.
2012 Rackspace Global Survey on Sustainability