Sustainability is talked about non-stop in our media and in our conversations around the world. Being a globally talked about topic, you’d think we’d have one solid definition of what sustainability is. However not everyone has the same picture in mind when referring to the term ‘sustainability’. The definitions for sustainability are endless, and here we decided to look at 6 different sources that explain how they define sustainability.

Sustainable Brands

“Currently, sustainability is a lot like beauty — its definition lies in the eyes of the beholder. This author’s preference is for actionable definitions that can be integrated into daily operational processes. The following is an attempt to define sustainability through this lens.

Sustainability is the conscious and proactive use of methods that do not harm people, planet or profit while also leaving a positive impact. The processes used to achieve sustainability must be reliable, replicable and measurable; outcomes must be confirmable, especially by outside scrutiny.”


International Institute for Sustainable Development

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:


  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”


Global Developmental Research Center

“Sustainable development is maintaining a delicate balance between the human need to improve lifestyles and feeling of well-being on one hand, and preserving natural resources and ecosystems, on which we and future generations depend.”


Cambridge Dictionaries Online

“Able to be maintained or continued”


Sustainable Measures

“There may be as many definitions of sustainability and sustainable development as there are groups trying to define it. All the definitions have to do with:

  • Living within the limits
  • Understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities

However, different ways of defining sustainability are useful for different situations and different purposes. For this reason, various groups have created definitions of:

  • Sustainability and sustainable development
  • Sustainable community and society
  • Sustainable business and production
  • Sustainable agriculture”



“Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.

For more practical detail the behavior you wish to continue indefinitely must be defined. For example:

Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation, and non-renewable resource depletion that can be continued indefinitely.

Economic sustainability is the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely.

Social sustainability is the ability of a social system, such as a country, to function at a defined level of social well being indefinitely.

A more complete definition of sustainability is thus environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This forms the goal of The Three Pillars of Sustainability.”



Do these definitions line up with how you use the term ‘sustainability’? If not, how come? Is there an important component of sustainability we missed here? Let us know in the comments below how YOU define sustainability.


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