Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This definition was created in 1987 at the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission). It is enshrined in the Swiss federal constitution. It is similar to the “seventh generation” philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, mandating that chiefs always consider the effects of their actions on their descendants seven generations in the future.
There are many ways to measure or define sustainability. As described in the book Natural Capitalism, in business, these should include the sustainable development and use of, at least, the following four types of capital:

  • Financial Capital
  • Manufacturing Capital
  • Natural Capital
  • Human Capital

In addition, many organizations use the following criteria to assess sustainable products, services, and other activities:
Social Criteria:

  • Socially desirable
  • Culturally acceptable
  • Psychologically nurturing

Financial Criteria:

  • Economically sustainable
  • Technologically feasible
  • Operationally viable

Environmental Criteria:

  • Environmentally Robust
  • Generationally Sensitive
  • Capable of continuous learning


5 Responses to “Sustainability”
  1. Jack O'Sullivan says:

    The definition you use, i.e., “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” is of course the standard and most generally used definition of sustainability. It is attributed to Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, and Chairperson of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission was established by the Secretary General of the UN in 1983, and reported in 1987 (“Our Common Future”, 1987).
    Unfortunately, I feel this definition is open to a wide range of interpretations and does not adequately recognise the intrinsic right of the environment and its living creatures to their own existence, independently of any service they may provide to humankind, i.e., it is far too anthropocentric. We need to take account of a growing awareness that human beings are not necessarily the centre of creation; as Thomas Berry so eloquently states:
    “To preserve the economic viability of the planet must be the first law of economics. To preserve the health of the planet must be the first commitment of the medical profession. To preserve the natural world as the primary revelation of the divine must be the basic concern of religion. To think that the human can benefit by a deleterious exploitation of any phase of the structure or functioning of the Earth is an absurdity. The well-being of the earth is primary. Human well-being is derivative.” (The Universe Story, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, p 243).
    I have been teaching a Master’s degree course in Dublin, Ireland, for four or five years on the topic of sustainability, and I prefer the meaning given to “sustainable development” in “Caring for the Earth: a Strategy for Sustainable Living”, IUCN/UNEP/WWF (1991) as —
    “Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s supporting eco-systems”.
    Another very good definition, developed by one of my students, Shiela Convery, in 2004 is:
    “Sustainable Development is about raising our quality of life by establishing symbiotic relations within and between our diverse human cultures and between those cultures and the biosphere”
    This definition suggests that human societies should not be exploitative of each or of the resources of the planet, but should live in a harmonious relationship with all other living creatures with whom we share the biosphere.
    Thank you for a very interesting website and dictionary. I wish that we had an institute similar to the Presidio School of Management in Ireland ! If you would like to contact me, please feel free to do so; my details are:
    Jack O’Sullivan,
    Environmental Management Services,
    Outer Courtyard,
    Tullynally Castle,
    County Westmeath, Ireland.
    Telephone + 353 44 966 2222
    Fax + 353 44 966 2223

  2. I think working capital is a financial metric which represents the amount of day-by-day operating liquidity available to a business. Also known as operating capital, it is calculated as current assets minus current liabilities. A company can be endowed with assets and profitability, but short of liquidity, if these assets cannot readily be converted into cash.

  3. WhatisValue says:

    The discussion on what sustainability is and how to define it is a widely discussed item. All discussions tend to lean towards the financial capital of a firm as a KPI for the decision on a sustainable alternative or option. Whether or not to make the choice on a sustainable solution based on the financial return it might have is wrong at its roots for most companies. The definition should not be based on the financial return but on the value increase of the firm. This includes more than the financial benefits but it sees the company as a whole. Although this is a long term metric and not one that is seen on the short term I see it as an illusion that it will ever be used (at least on the short term). A reason can be found with the personality of most of today’s CEO’s. Praised by their boards on their successes. Success not measured by the amount of tree’s they saved, water they helped cleaning or people they fed but based on their financial successes. Those successes (although short term seen in today’s economy) are our standards as well. We cannot deny that we want what our neighbor has. We are at the beginning of understanding what sustainability should be and hopefully we will start implementing it soon. Only those who will incorporate sustainability as a strategic corporate advantage will lead the way and will eventually be able to measure it as a metric yet to be defined and honestly measured. Till than we will donate to whatever cause, hoping to satisfy our easy of mind and our marketing department for some corporate exposure. But unable to validate the cost to the shareholders making the discussion financial again. With this the circle is round and the discussion on the definition of sustainability and the effect (benefits) will start again.

  4. Guest says:

    Here is a good video which explains what is sustainability:

  5. Sustainability-s says:

    Here is a good video which explains what is sustainability:

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.