What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is such a buzz word these days. It’s hard not to read or hear it anywhere! But just in case you’re not too sure what it actually means, here's a basic sustainability definition.

An Intelligent Strategy:

Sustainability is about integrating the economic, social and environmental elements of a society, process, organisation or whatever the case may be. By achieving this integration, it is possible to maintain, and even enhance, a system's capacity to meet its needs. It’s about achieving equilibrium which is efficient and ultimately successful for that system. This is of course not always easy because different actors within one system will most likely have different priorities. While one person may want to keep things cheap, another may want to only prioritise the environmental aspects of a situation.

A certain amount of compromise is therefore needed to achieve sustainability. However, it is generally agreed that a sustainable society is beneficial not only for the present, but also for future generations. It’s also about increasing resilience against potential threats, such as resource depletion, or over-reliance on dwindling oil reserves.

Sustainability in Context:

Sustainability is really a very expansive concept. Basically, it can be applied to mostly everything. And there is no set-out procedure to achieve it. That's because being sustainable is dependent on who or what you are, and what results you want to see. Are you a household trying to live in a more social community? Or are you a business trying to ensure that you maintain a solid revenue?

When dealing with sustainability, companies, businesses and organisations will generally refer to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is largely about following a responsible business model.  Business Link and Wikipedia have more helpful information on the subject. When dealing with national and international governments and policies, you are more likely to hear about Sustainable Development. This term is generally applied on a much wider scale, so you're more likely to see it in policies or legislation. It's also a much more disputed term, it has a few thousand different definitions attached to it, each with slightly different understandings. Many people also don't appreciate what could be considered a contradiction between 'sustainability' and 'development' - this should not be the case though. The most common definition is that of the Brundtland Report which says that:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

As you can see, sustainability is really very wide-ranging and all-encompassing. I think there's one more aspect of it which people often miss: the potential which it can foster.

Sustainability as a Driver of Innovation:

I'm a firm believer that by reaching for sustainability, things are going to start to get real exciting. You know all those futuristic films where people are using funky technologies... yeah that's what I picture (including hover-boards of course). But it's not only in the films any more. I mean here's just a few examples: Cisco's Telepresence is already having a major impact on the way businesses can operate globally, but it can be used in so many more ways. Here's a video of Cisco's take on it. How about, on a grander scale, the research city of Masdar which I talk about in one of my posts (The Problem with the S-Word) - a whole city built around renewable energy and eco-friendly living. 

It's not just about technology either. It can drive the way a society is. People increasingly don't want to just  live in a street, but in a community or neighbourhood. And let's not forget the ever-rising organic market which has lead the allotment revolution. With sustainability, the possibilities are endless. That's what I find so exciting.

All in all, sustainability is the ultimate objective. The difficulty is actually achieving it…