What is Sustainability?

Closed-system sustainability ensure that resources used by people are replaced with other resources of even greater value or benefit.
Closed-system sustainability ensure that resources used by people are replaced with other resources of even greater value or benefit.

The word ‘sustainability’ is derived from the words ‘sustain’ and ‘ability’. In ecology, the word can be defined as the characteristic of biological systems, such as wetlands and forests, to stay productive and diverse indeterminately. In a general sense, sustainability is the endurance of processes and systems.

Sustainability’s organizing principle is sustainable development which is divided into four sections: culture, economics, politics, and ecology. Another term, sustainable development, refers to the study of environmental science and sustainable development.

For the survival of the human race in the long-term, it is crucial that healthy environments and ecosystems are available. There are several ways of reducing negative human environmental impact including environmental resource management, chemical engineering that is environmentally friendly, and the protection of the environment. Another term presents itself, ecological economics, which is the study of fields that seek to address natural ecosystems and human economies.

Components of Sustainability

Sustainable development goals of social and economic development and environmental protection were identified during the 2005 World Summit on Social Development. The view has since been expressed in the form of an illustration with three circles that overlap. This illustration is used to demonstrate that the three goals are not mutually exclusive. It actually goes to prove that, the goals have the ability to reinforce each other because of the interdependence between them. Because of this aspect, none of them can exist without the others. Some social scientists have decided to add another pillar to the sustainability scope; future generations. This new pillar is bringing out the long-term plan that is frequently associated with sustainability.

Sustainable development is made up of an equilibrium between domestic and global utilization of the earth’s resources as a way to take care of human needs but equally ensuring that the environment is not abused and destroyed. It’s a measure to preserve the environment for the future generations.

Sustainability can, therefore, be summarized as responsible decision making as well as innovation to reduce harmful destructive impact. Not to disregard other important aspects, a balance should be struck between several things like economics achievement, governance and politics, people’s values/culture, and ecological hardiness. A balance between all these will help to ensure that the planet is desirable for all the species that live on it now as well as in future.

Circles of Sustainability

The circles of sustainability view identified four fields of ecological, economic, cultural, and political sustainability as per Agenda 21 of the United Nations which stipulates that culture be a part of the four domains of sustainable development. This approach is currently used widely by plenty of organizations in the world like Metropolis and United Nations Cities Programme.

Seven Modalities

Another view has suggested that human beings should try to achieve all they want through seven modalities, namely: community, government, physiology, culture, environment, economy, and occupational groups. Human sustainability can be attained by reaching sustainability in all the echelons stipulated in this approach.

Going Forward

Sustainability has two key elements: research and innovation. A significant example is the European environmental research and innovation policy that is aimed towards the definition and implementation of an agenda that seeks to make the economy and the society as a whole greener. A greener economy and society mean sustainability. Horizon 2020 is a European programme that supports research and innovation in Europe (it is open to worldwide participation). One of the ways of achieving sustainability is by encouraging farmers to practice green farming which would enable them to fully reap the benefits of the environment and at the same time making sure that the future generation is looked after.


In ecological terms, resiliency is defined as the ability or the capacity of a particular ecosystem to absorb or take a disturbance but still be able to have its viability and its basic structure. Thinking about resiliency came up because of the need to address and manage the interactions that occur between human beings and the natural environment or ecosystems in a manner that is sustainable. Resilience-thinking, though, does not have a proper definition up to this point. However, it is possible to understand what it is all about. The thinking helps to understand and address how big a hit the environment can take from human beings and still be able to provide for the needs of the current generation and still retain the ability to provide for the future. Resilience-thinking also helps to ensure the full support of global policymakers to manage and help the promotion of crucial planetary resources. The proper management and promotion of these resources help to improve the resiliency of that particular ecosystem. Resiliency is directly proportional to sustainability. As a result, sustainability is increased as well. With this knowledge in mind, it becomes possible to measure the level of sustainability of any ecosystem at certain events or junctures where the regenerative forces that occur naturally, for example water, soil, vegetation, solar energy, and other forces, interrelate with the energy that is released by the environment as a result of disturbances.

A more practical approach to sustainability is closed systems. These systems maintain a process of being productive indefinitely by ensuring that resources used by people are replaced by those same people with other resources of even greater value or benefit. The use and replacement of these resources is done in such a way that environmental degradation does not occur. In human projects, sustainability can then be measured if and only if there is a clear accountability of used resources and the resources put back to replace the spent ones. Naturally, the accounting of the resource use takes place through adaptation as an ecosystem recovers. It is essential to understand that natural adaptation takes a lot of time depending on the disturbance. A disturbance, say a fire, takes place. Nature absorbs the impact of the fire, then utilises this impact if positive or deflects this energy.

In the analysis of other systems like urban areas and national parks, a simple way of looking at sustainability and resiliency is the ability of engineers to respond to changes in the environment.


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