Rarely uttered before the 1950’s, the word “sustainable” has become a frequently used buzzword, even landing itself in the title of the United Nations post-2015 development agenda: The Sustainable Development Goals. Despite its frequency of use and rise in popularity, the definition of ‘sustainable’ is murky at best.
The concept of sustainability is most commonly discussed in context with the environment, seamlessly replacing stale buzzwords such as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’. The misconception that these words are synonymous is easy to forgive. Historically, the word originated from the study of ecology as a biological systems’ capacity to ‘endure indefinitely’. Considering that the entire planet is one giant eco-system, the fight for a more sustainable world is a fight to maintain the health of our planet indefinitely. So yes, protecting the environment, reducing our carbon footprint and mitigating future ecological damage is a huge component of creating a more sustainable planet. But is it just the environment we are concerned about?
The short answer is no. The degradation of our planet and natural resources is not the only obstacle we must overcome in order to ‘endure indefinitely’. We must overcome ourselves, evaluating our society’s social and economic behaviour and how this impacts our ability to sustain health and diversity amongst us. Global trends of deepening economic inequality, increased pollution in the developing world, civil unrest and political corruption are all fundamentally significant to the health of our society now, and in the future. Thus, reducing the concept of ‘sustainable,’ to being ‘green’ woefully underestimates the core of the matter.
While there is still a lack of mainstream consensus regarding this buzzword, the UN and many other international organizations have adopted a three-pillared definition including: the economy, society, and the environment. The relationship between these three are fundamentally intertwined when balancing the needs of our planet and its people now, and in the future