DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABILITY

"Sustainability is providing for human emotional, cultural, and economic needs into the foreseeable future. Sustainable management of natural resources including our living planet are essential parts of this process"  Robert Browne, Director, SfS.

 

The above definition of sustainability is culturally inclusive and provides for strategy and motivation based on these concepts:

  • Emotional needs that drive culture and politics and have precedence in the definition. 
  • Cultural needs include aesthetics, art, education, and recreational space.    
  • Human physical and emotional health improve through engagement with nature.   
  • A sustainable economy is based on human emotional and cultural needs. 

Additional notes relating to the most widely currently accepted definition of Sustainability by the United Nations, 1987.

The United Nations, 1987, definition of sustainability stated “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The United Nations, 1987, definition is inconsistent and ambiguous. It also does not implicitly support biodiversity conservation, although it does implicitly support the concept of the commercial value of public natural resources directing conservation effort.

Improvement to the United Nations, 1987, definition of sustainability

1. The use of the term "foreseeable future" to place sustainability within the dominant belief structure and also into a logical time frame.

Under the UN 1987 definition the needs of future generations will be defined by the cultural attitudes of the current generationThe global industrial economy currently defines basic human cultural needs as being consumerism and conformity. There is clearly a wide acceptance of these values, and the current generations attitudes as a whole will be largely limited by these values.

Therefore, the need to provide for "future generations to meet their own needs" creates a dilemma. How can the current generation provide for future generations needs, when the current generations behaviour is characterised by excessive resource use in respect to future needs. 

An example of this dilemma within the UN definition is that the current  use of non-renewable resources limits their availability to future generations. So how can the use of these resources fit into the definition of sustainability? 

The term "foreseeable future" can accommodate the current use of non-renewable resources as simply a reduction and spacing of their use in a projection that finally leads to non-reliance. This model depends on a generational change toward sustainability not on the current generations concept of its achievement.

2. The reliance on the United Nations, 1987, concept of the current generations needs and the associated economic models, and that require the maximum utilisation of all resources, led to the promotion of the "Ecosystem Services Model" to support conservation.

The Ecosystem Services Model is superficially appealing. A value is assigned to a natural asset like quality water from a watershed that supplies a city. This value does not normally consider as a major factors the benefits of watershed use for physical or emotional well being, or in a wider sense the sustainable management of biodiversity.

The UN recognises four basic categories of ecosystem service:

• Provisioning - providing timber, wheat, fish, etc.
• Regulating - disposing of pollutants, regulating rainfall, storing carbon.
• Cultural - sacred sites, tourism, enjoyment of countryside.
• Supporting - maintaining soils and plant growth.

The Ecosystem Service's Model has established to the stage where, to some, the sustainable management of natural resources should be governed by the financial markets.

However, the financial markets will not alone be able to solve the environmental crisis by focusing on ecosystem services, although in some cases they may make a valuable contributions. 

We need to consider nature as a priceless heritage with ourselves as custodians for future generations.