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Sustainability is a systemic concept, relating to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment. It is intended to be 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, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in a very long term. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.

: "Sustainability is all about engineering the ability of a society to consume without degrading its abilty to consume at similar rates in the future, not about removing consumption from the economic equation." - Congress:Member:Nicholas Tastad, NEC, July 26, 2009

Views of sustainability

The central problem of sustainability is whether the human life support system on earth can continue indefinitely, or whether it is changing the world in radical ways that will fail. In nature, there are no examples of indefinite physical growth—whether humankind can transform its economic growth system into a sustainable approach is presently unknown and a matter of considerable debate.

Sustainability can be defined both qualitatively in words, and quantitatively as a ratio. Put in qualitative terms, sustainability seeks to provide the best outcomes for the human and natural environments both now and into the indefinite future. Some people now consider the term "sustainable development" as too closely linked with continued material development, and prefer to use terms like "sustainability", "sustainable prosperity" and "sustainable genuine progress" as the umbrella terms. The 1987 Brundtland Report, defined sustainable development as development that "meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". This is very much like the seventh generation philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy. Chiefs were charged with bearing in mind the effects of their actions on their descendants for seven generations.

The term "sustainable development" was adopted by the Agenda 21 program of the United Nations. The 1995 World Summit on Social Development further defined this term as "the framework for our efforts to achieve a higher quality of life for all people," in which "economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components". The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development expanded this definition identifying the "three overarching objectives of sustainable development" to be:

# eradicating poverty,

# protecting natural resources, and

#changing unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

Despite differences, a number of common principles are embedded in most charters or action programmes to achieve sustainable development, sustainability or sustainable prosperity. These include:

Dealing cautiously with risk, uncertainty and irreversibility.

Ensuring appropriate valuation, appreciation and restoration of nature.

Integration of environmental, social and economic goals in policies and activities.

Equal opportunity and community participation/Sustainable community.

Conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity.

Ensuring inter-generational equity.

Recognizing the global dimension.

A commitment to best practice.

No net loss of human capital or natural capital.

The principle of continuous improvement.

The need for good governance.

Use of resources

There is also a positive way to view sustainability: though values vary greatly in detail within and between cultures, at the heart of the concept of sustainability there is a fundamental, immutable value set that is best stated as 'parallel care and respect for the ecosystem and for the people within'. From this value set emerges the goal of sustainability: to achieve human and ecosystem well-being together. It follows that the 'result' against which the success of any project or design should be judged is the achievement of, or the contribution to, human and ecosystem well-being together. Seen in this way, the concept of sustainability is much more than environmental protection in another guise. It is a positive concept that has as much to do with achieving well-being for people and ecosystems as it has to do with reducing stress or impacts.

Many people have pointed to various practices and philosophies in the world today as being harmful to sustainability. For instance, critics of American society state that the philosophy of infinite economic growth and infinite growth in consumption are completely unsustainable and will cause great harm to human civilization in the future. In recognition that the Earth is finite, there has been a growing awareness that there must be limits to certain kinds of human activity if life on the planet is to survive indefinitely. In order to distinguish which activities are destructive and which are benign or beneficial, various models of resource use have been developed. Such models include: life cycle assessment and ecological footprint analysis. Recently the algorithms of the ecological footprint model have been used in combination with the emergy methodology, and a sustainability index has also been derived from the latter.

Types of sustainability

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has identified considerations for technical cooperation that affect three types of sustainability:

Institutional sustainability: Institutional structure need to continue to deliver the results of technical cooperation to end users, but the results may not be sustainable if, for example, the planning authority that depends on the technical cooperation loses access to top management, or is not provided with adequate resources after the technical cooperation ends. Institutional sustainability can also be linked to the concept of social sustainability, which asks how the interventions can be sustained by social structures and institutions

Economical and financial sustainability: Technical cooperation must continue to yield an economic benefit after the technical cooperation is withdrawn. For example, the benefits from the introduction of new crops may not be sustained if the constraints to marketing the crops are not resolved. Similarly, economic, as distinct from financial, sustainability may be at risk if the end users continue to depend on heavily subsidized activities and inputs.

Ecological sustainability: The benefits generated by the technical cooperation should prevent the deterioration in the physical environment, thus avoiding any contribution to the fall in or well-being of the groups targeted and their society.

The United Nations has declared a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development starting in January of 2005. A non-partisan multi-sector response to the decade has formed within the U.S. via the U.S. Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. [2] Active sectors teams have formed for youth, higher education, business, religion, the arts, and more. Organizations and individuals can join in sharing resources and success stories, and creating a sustainable future.

Development sustainability

Sustainability is relevant to development projects. A definition of development sustainability is the continuation of benefits after major assistance from the donor has been completed. Ensuring that development projects are sustainable can reduce the likelihood of them collapsing after they have just finished it also reduces the financial cost of development projects and the subsequent social problems, such as dependence of the stakeholders on external donors and their resources. All development assistance, apart from temporary emergency and humanitarian relief efforts, should be designed and implemented with the aim of achieving sustainable benefits. There are ten key factors that influence development sustainability.

#Participation and ownership. Get the stakeholders (men and women) to genuinely participate in design and implementation. Build on their initiatives and demands. Get them to monitor the project and periodically evaluate it for results.

#Capacity building and training. Training stakeholders to take over should begin from the start of any project and continue throughout. The right approach should both motivate and transfer skills to people.

#Government policies. Development projects should be aligned with local government policies.

#Financial. In some countries and sectors, financial sustainability is difficult in the medium term. Training in local fundraising is a possibility, as is identifying links with the private sector, charging for use, and encouraging policy reforms.

#Management and organisation. Activities that integrate with or add to local structures may have better prospects for sustainability than those which establish new or parallel structures.

#Social, gender and culture. The introduction of new ideas, technologies and skills requires an understanding of local decision-making systems, gender divisions and cultural preferences.

#Technology. All outside equipment must be selected with careful consideration given to the local finance available for maintenance and replacement. Cultural acceptability and the local capacity to maintain equipment and buy spare parts are vital.

#Environment. Poor rural communities that depend on natural resources should be involved in identifying and managing environmental risks. Urban communities should identify and manage waste disposal and pollution risks.

#External political and economic factors. In a weak economy, projects should not be too complicated, ambitious or expensive.

#Realistic duration. A short project may be inadequate for solving entrenched problems in a sustainable way, particularly when behavioural and institutional changes are intended. A long project, may on the other hand, promote dependence.

TChange Resistance Phenomenon

The above concepts focus primarily on the proper practices required to live sustainably. None, however, analyze why there is such strong resistance to adopting sustainable practices. One of the few that does is the work at This site argues that if enough members of the environmental movement adopted a problem solving process that fit the problem, the movement would make the astonishing discovery that the crux of the problem is not what it thought it was. It is not the proper practices or technical side of the problem after all. Any number of these practices would be adequate. Instead the real issue is why is it so difficult to persuade social agents (such as people, corporations, and nations) to adopt the proper practices needed to live sustainably? Thus the heart of the matter is the change resistance or social side of the problem.

Sustainability metric and indices

In 2003, Maine brought attention to the lack of quantitative indicators of sustainability. According to the University of Reading website, there are three basic functions of indicators: simplification, quantification, and communication. Indicators generally simplify in order to make complex phenomena quantifiable so that information can be communicated. In this context, in 1996 the International Institute for Sustainable Development developed a Sample Policy Framework which proposed that a sustainability index "would give decision- makers tools to rate policies and programs against each other" (1996, p.9). Like Maine, Ravi Jain (2005) argued that, "The ability to analyze different alternatives or to assess progress towards sustainability will then depend on establishing measurable entities or metrics used for sustainability." Likewise the International Institute For Environment And Development, Environmental Planning Group (1993, p.2) said,

The need for sustainability analysis and particularly for indicators of sustainability is a key requirement to implement and monitor the development of national sustainable development plans, as required by Agenda 21 agreed at UNCED in June 1992.

A number of different schools have undertaken development of such a metric. In 1997 the Global Reporting Initiative]] (GRI) was started as a multi-stakeholder process and independent institution whose mission has been "to develop and disseminate globally applicable Sustainability Reporting Guidelines"The GRI uses ecological footprint analysis and became independent in 2002, and is an official collaborating centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and works in cooperation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Global Compact. In the same year (1997), systems ecology|systems ecologists] M.T.Brown and S.Ulgiati published their formulation of a quantitative sustainability index (SI) as a ratio of the emergy (spelled with an "m", i.e. "embodied energy", not simply "energy") yield ratio (EYR) to the environmental loading ratio (ELR). Brown and Ulgiati also called the sustainability index the "Emergy Sustainability Index" (ESI), "an index that accounts for yield, renewability, and environmental load. It is the incremental emergy yield compared to the environmental load" (1999, p. 7).

Sustainability definition as a ratio

::: Sustainability Index = \frac{Emergy Yield Ratio}{Environmental Loading Ratio} = \frac{EYR}{ELR}

NOTE: The numerator is called "There was an error working with the wiki: Code[5]" and is spelled with an "m". It is an abbreviation of the term, "embodied energy", aka "embedded energy". The numerator is not "energy yield ratio" which is different. (This index is from Table 3. 'Global Energy Indices' in Brown and Ulgiati 1999, p.23)

More recently a joint initiative of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) of Columbia University, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission also attempted to construct an Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI). This was formally released in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on 28 January 2005. The report on this index made a comparison of the WEF ESI to other sustainability indicators such as the Ecological footprint Index. However there was no mention of the emergy sustainability index. Nevertheless writers have also recently suggested that the emergy sustainability index has significant utility. In particular, Leone notes that while the GRI measures behavior, it fails to calculate supply constraints which the emergy methodology aims to calculate. A recent report by United States Environment Protection Agency using emergy methodology <pesn type=, and compare also with the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. A June, 2006 peer-reviewed study," str="The 2006 US City Rankings, by SustainLane.com, ranking the 50 most populated U.S. cities across 15 categories, utilizing over 2000 data points. [ links are dead. Try to get archive copy."></pesn>

Sustainability and competitiveness

According to some economists, it is possible for the concepts of sustainable development and competitiveness to merge if enacted wisely, so that there is not an inevitable trade-off. This merger is being motivated by the following six facts (Hargroves & Smith 2005):

#Throughout the economy there are widespread untapped potential resource productivity improvements to be made to be coupled with effective design.

#There has been a significant shift in understanding over the last three decades of what creates lasting competitiveness of the firm.

#There is now a critical mass of enabling technologies in eco-innovations that make integrated approaches to sustainable development economically viable.

#Since many of the costs of what economists call ‘environmental externalities’ are passed on to governments, in the long-term sustainable development strategies can provide multiple benefits to the tax payer.

#There is a growing understanding of the multiple benefits of valuing social and natural capital, for both moral and economic reasons, and including them in measures of national well-being.

#There is mounting evidence to show that a transition to a sustainable economy, if done wisely, may not harm economic growth significantly, in fact it could even help it. Recent research by ex-Wuppertal Institute member Joachim Spangenberg, working with neo-classical economists, shows that the transition, if focused on improving resource productivity, will lead to higher economic growth than business as usual, while at the same time reducing pressures on the environment and enhancing employment.

External articles and references

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1]

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There was an error working with the wiki: Code[4] a guide containing the latest environmental advice for businesses. It includes all the latest laws and regulations and so far it has received some very positive feedback.

M. Leone (2005). "The Quest for an Environmental Metric: Gazing at weather systems, a ground-breaking scientist spawned an ecological accounting standard that Wall Street might one day embrace". CFO Publishing.

T. Maine (2003). "Towards a Metric of Sustainability". CSIRO Publishing.

M.T. Brown and S. Ulgiati (1997). "Emergy-based indices and ratios to evaluate sustainability: monitoring economies and technology toward environmentally sound innovation". Ecological Engineering 9: 51-69.

M.T. Brown and S. Ulgiati (1999). "Emergy Evaluation of the Biosphere and Natural Capital". Ambio 28 (6).

S. Zhao, Z. Li, W. Li (2005). "A modified method of ecological footprint calculation and its application". Ecological Modelling 185 (1): 65-75. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2004.11.016.

Heui-seok Yi, Jorge L. Hau, Nandan U. Ukidwe, and Bhavik R. Bakshi (2004). "Hierarchical Thermodynamic Metrics for Evaluating the Environmental Sustainability of Industrial Processes". Environmental Progress 23 (4): 65-75. DOI:10.1002/ep.10049.

R. Jain (2005). "Sustainability: metrics, specific indicators and preference index". Clean Techn Environ Policy 7: 71-72.

Allen, P. (Ed) 1993. Food for the Future: Conditions and Contradictions of Sustainability. ISBN 0-471-58082-1 Paperback. 344 pages.

AtKisson, A. 1999. Believing Cassandra, An Optimist looks at a Pessimist’s World, Chelsea Green Publishing., White River Junction, VT

Bartlett, A. 1998. Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment - Revisited revised version (January 1998) of paper first published in Population & Environment, Vol. 16, No. 1, September 1994, pp. 5-35.

Benyus, J. 1997. Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature, William Morrow, New York

Gro Harlem Brundtland (ed.), (1987), Our common future: The World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Dalal-Clayton, B. (1993) Modified Eia And Indicators Of Sustainability: First Steps Towards Sustainability Analysis, Environmental Planning Issues No.1, International Institute For Environment And Development, Environmental Planning Group.

Daly H. 1996. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-4709-0

Daly H. and J. Cobb. 1989. For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-4705-8 Review

Hargroves, K. and M. Smith (Eds.) 2005. The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century. ISBN 1-84407-121-9, 525 pages. Earthscan/James&James. (See the books online companion at

Hawken, P., Lovins, A. and Lovins, L. H. 1999. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Earthscan, London (Downloadable from

International Institute for Sustainable Development (1996) Global Tomorrow Coalition Sustainable Development Tool Kit: A Sample Policy Framework, Chapter 4.

Marks, N., Simms, A., Thompson, S., and Abdallah, S. (2006).The (Un)happy Planet Index. London: New Economics Foundation. Downloadable from

M.T.Brown and S.Ulgiati 1999. Emergy Evaluation of Natural Capital and Biosphere Services, AMBIO, Vol.28, No.6, Sept. 1999.

Raven, J. (1995). The New Wealth of Nations: A New Enquiry into the Nature and Origins of the Wealth of Nations and the Societal Learning Arrangements Needed for a Sustainable Society. Unionville, New York: Royal Fireworks Press Sudbury, Suffolk: Bloomfield Books.

Robèrt, Karl-Henrik. (2002). The Natural Step Story: Seeding a Quiet Revolution. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1], Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

Young, L. & J. Hamshire 2000. Promoting Practical Sustainability. Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Canberra Australia, ISBN 0-642-45058-7. Free copies available at AusAID Public Affairs, GPO Box 887, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

Environmental Sustainability Index (2005) Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy Yale University, New Haven.

The Path to Sustainable Growth - Evidence from 20 years Growth Differentials in Europe

Worldchanging - the largest sustainability blog.

SustainLane's US City Sustainability Index - A nonpartisan resource for healthy sustainable living. [ links are dead. Try to get archive copy.]

Research for Sustainability (fona) - Funding, research and innovation for sustainable development

International Institute for Sustainable Development (Canadian)

Green Progress - Green building and sustainable development news.

WWW-Virtual Library - sustainable development - links.

iNSnet - Portal site for sustainable development.

Sustainability Now - Many references on Sustainability - from an engineering perspective.

Sustainable Living Foundation The portal for downloading or ordering Sustainability reports

Sustainability news coverage - from American Public Media. "The Next Green Revolution"] article on sustainability in Wired Magazine.


Image:Global footprint network logo 95x95.gif

Global Footprint Network- How much land area does it take to support your lifestyle? Take this quiz to find out your Ecological Footprint, discover your biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what you can do to tread more lightly on the earth.

Image:ESD-cover 95x95.jpg

Energy for Sustainable Development - Energy for Sustainable Development (ESD) focuses on energy as an instrument for fostering sustainable development. IEI publishes ESD as a medium for information exchange, for conveying the results of analytical and training efforts, and for sharing the lessons learnt from field projects. Since 1994.

Sustainability - A visual directory of websites that encourage sustainable living. (

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