Sustainability - What is Sustainability

August 22, 2023
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The word sustainability comes from the root of the word “to sustain” and refers to the ability of something to endure over time, to continue a course without termination.

The concept of sustainability is inevitably linked to time.

Sustainability in the context of businesses and public policy thus refers to “using methods that do not harm the environment so that natural resources are still available in the future.”



The Club of Rome, founded in April 1968 by Aurelio Peccei, an Italian industrialist, and Alexander King, a Scottish scientist, is a think tank of scientists, economists, businessmen, civil servants, heads of state, and former heads of state from all five continents.

It published in 1972 its first report The Limit to Growth, known also under the name of The Meadow report, because of its main authors, ecologists Donella Meadows and Dennis Meadows.

The report concludes that, without substantial changes in resource consumption, “the most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”

The authors recommended:

  • On the demographic level, measures such as the limitation of two children per couple
  • On the economic level, taxes on industry, to stop its growth and redirect the resources thus levied towards agriculture, services and above all the fight against pollution

The 1973 oil crisis increased public concern about sustainability. The report sold out 30 million copies in more than 30 languages, making it the best-selling environmental book in history.

In 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development to study the connection between ecological health, economic development, and social equity. The commission was run by the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.

In 1986-87, the “Brundtland Commission” released its final report, Our Common Future, and introduced the concept of sustainable development as “an economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” and describing how it could be achieved.

It consolidates decades of work on sustainable development.

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit called for global action and adoption of Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of actions for implementation at global, national and sub-national levels by organizations in every environmental area impacted by humans.

The number 21 represented the goal of attaining long-term progress in the twenty-first century.

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created in December 1992 to ensure effective follow-up, monitoring, and reporting on the implementation of the Agenda 21’s agreements at the local, national, regional, and international levels.

8 years later, with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 by all 191 United Nations member states and at least 22 international organizations, social justice meets public health & environmentalism.

Finally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development succeeded the MDGs in September 2015.

Those 17 goals reinforce the universal call to action to end poverty in all forms, protect the planet, and achieve worldwide peace and prosperity for people, now and into the future, while leaving no one and no place behind.

Sustainability - What is Sustainability

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  • University of Alberta
Screen of an Apiday feature to identified how sustainability is overseen in a company
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