Friday, January 28, 2011

Definition Day: Sustainability

Twig Couple II- Fric de Menthol

Ah sustainability, that word gets thrown around a lot. Sustainable development, sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, sustainable cities....Sustainability may be the new 'green', and I'm sure we all have a vague understanding of what the word means, but personally, I think understanding the true definition is very important. Because if we're all striving for sustainability we should have a clear definition to follow.

I first heard that confusing word, sustainability, back in 2005, in a conversation with a friend at the University of Guelph. The details of that talk are long forgotten, but I still remember the feelings of embarrasment when I had to stop my friend mid-sentence and admit 'I don't know what sustainability means'.

sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty, noun: The social and environmental practices that protect and enhance the human and natural resources needed by future generations to enjoy a quality of life equal to or greater than our own [1].

Comes from the root sus·tain, verb: to support, to endure without giving way, to keep from giving way, to supply with food, drink, and other necessities of life, to provide for [2].

Sustainability is composed of three or four parts, depending on who you ask: the environmental, economic, social, and cultural components. Sometimes, culture is left out, but it is especially important to some groups, including First Nations.

I like to think of these four parts as the pillars, or foundation upon which sustainability is built. If one one of the pillars is weak the whole system falls out of balance/ equilibrium.

So, sustainability is about more than protecting natural ecosystems. When we strive for sustainability, we are striving for a future that is able to balance the needs of the environment with the needs of humanity, including financial needs, infrastructure, government, and cultural heritage. Sounds pretty fantastic right?
Sustainability is indeed a lofty goal, but it is a journey we must embark on together if we want to achieve the planetary balance and harmony that sustainability strives for.

So how did I do? Did I leave out an important point? Still have questions? Please join the conversation on sustainability.

Thank you to Fric de Menthol for the use of of their original illustration 'Twig Couple II'. It, along with many more illustrations, prints, and postcards are available to purchase from Fric's online shop. Please check it out.

[1] US Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. Accessed on January 28, 20100 from:

[2] 2011. Sustain.Accessed on January 28, 2011 from:

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent post- there's so much fussy wording going on around the green/natural/organic idea. It's sad that it's being used as just a marketing ploy without anyone getting to the root of the issue. Great post, thanks!