In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Sustainability science is the study of sustainable development and environmental science.
Sustainability can also be defined as a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal. An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time/space but endlessly approachable and it is this endless pursuit that forms a sustainable system in the process. Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary to the survival of humans and other organisms. Ways of reducing negative human impact are environmentally-friendly chemical engineering, environmental resources management and environmental protection. Information is gained from green chemistry, earth science, environmental science and conservation biology. Ecological economics studies the fields of academic research that aim to address human economies and natural ecosystems.
Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganizing living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy and sustainable fission and fusion power), or designing systems in a flexible and reversible manner, and adjusting individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.
“The term ‘sustainability’ should be viewed as humanity’s target goal of human-ecosystem equilibrium (homeostasis), while ‘sustainable development’ refers to the holistic approach and temporal processes that lead us to the end point of sustainability. Despite the increased popularity of the use of the term “sustainability”, the possibility that human societies will achieve environmental sustainability has been, and continues to be, questioned—in light of environmental degradation, climate change, over consumption, population growth and societies’ pursuit of unlimited economic growth in a closed system.
The three pillars of sustainability
Sustainable development consists of balancing local and global efforts to meet basic human needs without destroying or degrading the natural environment.
The question then becomes how to represent the relationship between those needs and the environment.