What is Sustainability and Sustainable Development?

It’s been often stated that, “Sustainable urban development is one of the most pressing challenges facing the human community in the 21st century.” The United Nations Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Sustainable Development, is an organizing principle for human life on a finite planet where human societies live in a way that conditions and resource-use meet human needs without undermining the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that future generations may also meet their needs.

In practice, sustainability balances concerns for social equity, ecological health, and economic vitality to create a livable community for today while ensuring a healthy and fulfilling legacy for our children’s children.

Donut Economics FrameworkSustainability is further explained through Donut Economics, an economic model developed by economist Kate Raworth, leveraging the concepts of Planetary Boundaries and Fundamental Human Needs. This framework is an attempt to provide a compass to replace the impossible neoliberal economic goal of endless growth by one of thriving in balance. 

For humanity to thrive in balance we must stay within the light green space of having a regenerative and distributive economy to avoid shortfalls and overshoots of our economies within or outside the two boundaries of “Social Foundations” and “Ecological Ceiling” of earth’s environmental limits that earth system scientists have identified as being necessary for planetary stability.

The inner 12 dimensions of the “donut’s” social foundation—health, education, housing, water, etc, are derived from the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Currently we are falling short on many foundational social needs and have much work to do to bring everyone into an equitable economy while protecting our planet’s livable biosphere.


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