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A view of the Earth from space.
Achieving sustainability will enable the Earth to continue supporting life.
Banaue rice terraces in the Philippines, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to co-exist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.[1] For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social,[2] which according to Fritjof Capra[3], is based on the principles of Systems Thinking (See also Systems theory). Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political.[4][5] According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."[6][7] Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical (i.e., development is inherently unsustainable).[8][9][10]

Sustainability can also be defined as a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal.[11][12][self-published source?] An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time and space. However, by persistently and dynamically approaching it, the process results in a sustainable system.[12] Many environmentalists and ecologists argue that sustainability is achieved through the balance of species and the resources within their environment. As is typically practiced in natural resource management, the goal is to maintain this equilibrium, available resources must not be depleted faster than resources are naturally generated.

Modern use of the term sustainability is broad and difficult to define precisely.[13] Originally, sustainability meant making only such use of natural, renewable resources that people can continue to rely on their yields in the long term.[14] The concept of sustainability, or Nachhaltigkeit in German, can be traced back to Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714), and was applied to forestry.[15]

Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary for 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 computing, green chemistry, earth science, environmental science and, conservation biology. 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to co-exist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.[1] For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social,[2] which according to Fritjof Capra[3], is based on the principles of Systems Thinking (See also Systems theory). Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political.[4][5] According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."[6][7] Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical (i.e., development is inherently unsustainable).[8][9][10]

Sustainability can also be defined as a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal.[11][12][self-published source?] An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time and space. However, by persistently and dynamically approaching it, the process results in a sustainable system.[12] Many environmentalists and ecologists argue that sustainability is achieved through the balance of species and the resources within their environment. As is typically practiced in natural resource management, the goal is to maintain this equilibrium, available resources must not be depleted faster than resources are naturally generated.

Modern use of the term sustainability is broad and difficult to define precisely.[13] Originally, sustainability meant making only such use of natural, renewable resources that people can continue to rely on their yields in the long term.[14] The concept of sustainability, or Nachhaltigkeit in German, can be traced back to socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal.[11][12][self-published source?] An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time and space. However, by persistently and dynamically approaching it, the process results in a sustainable system.[12] Many environmentalists and ecologists argue that sustainability is achieved through the balance of species and the resources within their environment. As is typically practiced in natural resource management, the goal is to maintain this equilibrium, available resources must not be depleted faster than resources are naturally generated.

Modern use of the term sustainability is broad and difficult to define precisely.[13] Originally, sustainability meant making only such use of natural, renewable resources that people can continue to rely on their yields in the long term.[14] The concept of sustainability, or Nachhaltigkeit in German, can be traced back to Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714), and was applied to forestry.[15]

Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary for 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 computing, 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.[16]

Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, supply chain management, 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,[17][18] and adjusting individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.[19]

In sum, "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 endpoint of sustainability."[20] 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, overconsumption, population growth and societies' pursuit of unlimited economic growth in a closed system.[21][22]

The name sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sub, under). Sustain can mean "maintain", "support", "uphold" or "endure".[23][24]

Components

Three dimensions of sustainability

A diagram indicating the relationship between the "three pillars of sustainability", in which both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits[25]

The 2005 World Summit on Social Development identified sustainable development goals, such as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.[26] This view has been expressed as an illustration using three overlapping ellipses indicating that the three pillars of sustainability are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.[27] In fact, the three pillars are interdependent, and in the long run, none can exist without the others.[28] The three pillars have served as a common ground for numerous sustainability standards and certification systems in recent years, in particular in the food industry.[29][30] Standards which today explicitly refer to the triple bottom line include Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified.[31][32] Some sustainability experts and practitioners have illustrated four pillars of sustainability or a quadruple bottom line. One such pillar is future generations, which emphasizes the long-term thinking associated with sustainability.[citation needed] There is also an opinion that considers resource use and financial sustainability as two additional pillars of sustainability.[33]

EnvironmentEquitableSustainableBearable (Social ecology)Viable (Environmental economics)EconomicSocialSustainable development.svg
About this image
Venn diagram of sustainable development:
at the confluence of three constituent parts[34]

Sustainable development consists of balancing local and global efforts to meet basic human needs without destroying or degrading the natural environment.[35][36] The question then becomes how to represent the relationship between those needs and the environment.

A study from 2005 pointed out that environmental justice is as important as sustainable development.[37] Ecological economist Herman Daly asked, "what use is a sawmill without a forest?"[38] From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere, and an obtain in one sector is a loss from another.[39] This perspective led to the nested circles' figure of 'economics' inside 'society' inside the 'environment'.

The simple definition that sustainability is something that improves "the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems",[40] though vague, conveys the idea of sustainability havi

The 2005 World Summit on Social Development identified sustainable development goals, such as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.[26] This view has been expressed as an illustration using three overlapping ellipses indicating that the three pillars of sustainability are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.[27] In fact, the three pillars are interdependent, and in the long run, none can exist without the others.[28] The three pillars have served as a common ground for numerous sustainability standards and certification systems in recent years, in particular in the food industry.[29][30] Standards which today explicitly refer to the triple bottom line include Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified.[31][32] Some sustainability experts and practitioners have illustrated four pillars of sustainability or a quadruple bottom line. One such pillar is future generations, which emphasizes the long-term thinking associated with sustainability.[citation needed] There is also an opinion that considers resource use and financial sustainability as two additional pillars of sustainability.[33]

EnvironmentEquitableSustainableBearable (Social ecology)Viable (Environmental economics)[35][36] The question then becomes how to represent the relationship between those needs and the environment.

A study from 2005 pointed out that environmental justice is as important as sustainable development.[37] Ecological economist Herman Daly asked, "what use is a sawmill without a forest?"[38] From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere, and an obtain in one sector is a loss from another.[39] This perspective led to the nested circles' figure of 'economics' inside 'society' inside the 'environment'.

The simple definition that sustainability is something that improves "the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems",[40] though vague, conveys the idea of sustainability having quantifiable limits. But sustainability is also a call to action, a task in progress or "journey" and therefore a political process, so some definitions set out common goals and values.[41] The Earth Charter[42] speaks of "a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace". This suggested a more complex figure of sustainability, which included the importance of the domain of 'politics'.

More than that, sustainability implies responsible and proactive decision-making and innovation that minimizes negative impact and maintains a balance between ecological resilience, economic prosperity, political justice and cultural vibrancy to ensure a desirable planet for all species now and in the future.[5] Specific types of sustainability include, sustainable agriculture, sustainable architecture or ecological economics.[43] Understanding sustainable development is important but without clear targets it remains an unfocused term like "liberty" or "justice".[44] It has also been described as a "dialogue of values that challenge the sociology of development".[45]

Circles of sustainability and the fourth dimension of sustainability

environmental justice is as important as sustainable development.[37] Ecological economist Herman Daly asked, "what use is a sawmill without a forest?"[38] From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere, and an obtain in one sector is a loss from another.[39] This perspective led to the nested circles' figure of 'economics' inside 'society' inside the 'environment'.

The simple definition that sustainability is something that improves "the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems",[40] though vague, conveys the idea of sustainability having quantifiable limits. But sustainability is also a call to action, a task in progress or "journey" and therefore a political process, so some definitions set out common goals and values.[41] The Earth Charter[42] speaks of "a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace". This suggested a more complex figure of sustainability, which included the importance of the domain of 'politics'.

More than that, sustainability implies responsible and proactive decision-making and innovation that minimizes negative impact and maintains a balance between ecological resilience, economic prosperity, political justice and cultural vibrancy to ensure a desirable planet for all species now and in the future.[5] Specific types of sustainability include, sustainable agriculture, sustainable architecture or ecological economics.[43] Understanding sustainable development is important but without clear targets it remains an unfocused term like "liberty" or "justice".[44] It has also been described as a "dialogue of values that challenge the sociology of development".[45]

While the United Nations Millennium Declaration identified principles and treaties on sustainable development, including economic development, social development, and environmental protection, it continued using three domains: economics, environment, and social sustainability. More recently, using a systematic domain model that responds to the debates over the last decade, the Circles of Sustainability approach distinguished four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability;[46] this in accord with the United Nations, Unesco, Agenda 21, and in particular the Agenda 21 for culture which specifies culture as the fourth domain of sustainable development.[47] The model is now being used by organizations such as the United Nations Cities Programme[48] and Metropolis.[49] In the case of Metropolis, this approach does not mean adding a fourth domain of culture to the dominant triple bottom line figure of the economy, environment and the social. Rather, it involves treating all four domains—economy, ecology, politics, and culture—as social (including economics) and distinguishing between ecology (as the intersection of the human and natural worlds) and the environment as that which goes far beyond what we as humans can ever know.[50]

Seven modalities

Another model suggests humans' attempt to achieve all of their needs and aspirations via seven modalities: economy, community, occupational groups, government, environment, culture, and physiology.[51] From the global to the individual human scale, each of the seven modalities can be viewed across seven hierarchical levels. Human sustainability can be achieved by attaining sustainability in all levels of the seven modalities.

Shaping the future

Integral elements of sustainability are research and innovation activities. A telling example is the European environmental research and innovation policy. It aims at defining and implementing a transformative agenda to greening the economy and the society as a whole so to make them sustainable. Research and inno

Another model suggests humans' attempt to achieve all of their needs and aspirations via seven modalities: economy, community, occupational groups, government, environment, culture, and physiology.[51] From the global to the individual human scale, each of the seven modalities can be viewed across seven hierarchical levels. Human sustainability can be achieved by attaining sustainability in all levels of the seven modalities.

Shaping the future

Integral elements of sustainability are research and innovation activities. A telling example is the European environmental research and innovation policy. It aims at defining and implementing a transformative agenda to greening the economy and the society as a whole so to make them sustainable. Research and innovation in Europe are financially supported by the programme Horizon 2020, which is also open to participation worldwide.[52] Encouraging good farming practices ensures farmers fully benefit from the environment and at the same time conserving it for future generations. Additionally, instigating innovative and sustainable travel and transportation solutions must play a vital role in this process.[53][54] During the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, activist Rodrigo Ayala brought up a couple mechanisms to allow sustainability to become integrated into society. The need to gather as a society to plant more trees in our backyards is necessary and therefore a task for the next generation.

Resilience

Resilience in ecology is the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic structure and viability. Resilience-thinking evolved from the need to manage interactions between human-constructed systems and natural ecosystems sustainably even though to policymakers a definition remains elusive. Resilience-thinking addresses how much planetary ecological systems can withstand assault from human disturbances and still deliver the service's current and future generations need from them. It is also concerned with commitment from geopolitical policymakers to promote and manage essential planetary ecological resources to promote resilience and achieve sustainability of these essential resources for benefit of future generations of life.[55] The resiliency of an ecosystem, and thereby, its sustainability, can be reasonably measured at junctures or events where the combination of naturally occurring regenerative forces (solar energy, water, soil, atmosphere, vegetation, and biomass) interact with the energy released into the ecosystem from disturbances.[56] Yet, we must acknowledge the fact that resilience is reactive. Hence, the importance to move beyond resilience and antifragility, namely, Tropophilia [57].

The most practical view of sustainability is in terms of efficiency [58]. In fact, efficiency equals sustainability since zero efficiency (when possible) means zero waste. Another not so practical view of sustainability is The most practical view of sustainability is in terms of efficiency [58]. In fact, efficiency equals sustainability since zero efficiency (when possible) means zero waste. Another not so practical view of sustainability is closed systems that maintain processes of productivity indefinitely by replacing resources used by actions of people with resources of equal or greater value by those same people without degrading or endangering natural biotic systems.[59] In this way, sustainability can be concretely measured in human projects if there is a transparent accounting of the resources put back into the ecosystem to replace those displaced. In nature, the accounting occurs naturally through a process of adaptation as an ecosystem returns to viability from an external disturbance. The adaptation is a multi-stage process that begins with the disturbance event (earthquake, volcanic eruption, hurricane, tornado, flood, or thunderstorm), followed by absorption, utilization, or deflection of the energy or energies that the external forces created.[60][61]

In analysing systems such as urban and national parks, dams, farms and gardens, theme parks, open-pit mines, water catchments, one way to look at the relationship between sustainability and resiliency is to view the former with a long-term vision and resiliency as the capacity of human engineers to respond to immediate environmental events.[62]

The name sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sub, under). Sustain can mean "maintain," "support," "uphold," or "endure".[22][23] The history of sustainability traces human-dominated ecological systems from the earliest civilizations to the present day.[63] This history is characterized by the increased regional success of a particular society, followed by crises that were either resolved, producing sustainability, or not, leading to decline.[64][65]

In early human history, the use of fire and desire for specific foods may have altered the natural composition of plant and animal communities.[66] Between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, agrarian communities emerged which depended largely on their environ

In early human history, the use of fire and desire for specific foods may have altered the natural composition of plant and animal communities.[66] Between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, agrarian communities emerged which depended largely on their environment and the creation of a "structure of permanence."[67]

The Western industrial revolution of the 18th to 19th centuries tapped into the vast growth potential of the energy in fossil fuels. Coal was used to power ever more efficient engines and later to generate electricity. Modern sanitation systems and advances in medicine protected large populations from disease.[68] In the mid-20th century, a gathering environmental movement pointed out that there were environmental costs associated with the many material benefits that were now being enjoyed. In the late 20th century, environmental problems became global in scale.[69][70][71][72][73] The 1973 and 1979 energy crises demonstrated the extent to which the global community had become dependent on non-renewable energy resources.

In the 1970s, the ecological footprint of humanity exceeded the carrying capacity of earth, therefore the mode of life of humanity became unsustainable.[74]

In the 21st century, there is increasing global awareness of the threat posed by the human greenhouse effect, produced largely by forest clearing and the burning of fossil fuels.[75][76]

There are at least three letters from the scientific community about the growing threat to Sustainability and ways to remove the threat.

The philosophical and analytic framework of sustainability draws on and connects with many different disciplines and fields; in recent years an area that has come to be called sustainability science has emerged.[80]

Scale and context

Sustainability is studied and managed over many scales (levels or frames of reference) of time and space and in many contexts of environmental, social, and economic organizations. The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity (sustainability) of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighborhood, home gardens, individual lives, individual goods, and servicesthis includes the use of natural resources prudently to meet current needs without affecting the ability of the future generation from meeting their needs.[clarification needed], occupations, lifestyles, and behavior patterns. In short, it can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it.[81] As Daniel Botkin, author and environmentalist, has stated: "We see a landscape that is always in flux, changing over many scales of time and space."[82]

The sheer size and complexity of the planetary ecosystem has proven problematic for the design of practical measures to reach global sustainability. To shed light on the big picture, explorer and sustainability campaigner Jason Lewis has drawn parallels to other, more tangible closed systems. For example, he likens human existence on Earth — isolated as the planet is in space, whereby people cannot be evacuated to relieve population pressure and resources cannot be imported to prevent accelerated depletion of resources — to life at sea on a small boat isolated by water.[citation needed] In both cases, he argues, exercising the precautionary principle is a key factor in survival.[83]

Consumpt

Sustainability is studied and managed over many scales (levels or frames of reference) of time and space and in many contexts of environmental, social, and economic organizations. The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity (sustainability) of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighborhood, home gardens, individual lives, individual goods, and servicesthis includes the use of natural resources prudently to meet current needs without affecting the ability of the future generation from meeting their needs.[clarification needed], occupations, lifestyles, and behavior patterns. In short, it can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it.[81] As Daniel Botkin, author and environmentalist, has stated: "We see a landscape that is always in flux, changing over many scales of time and space."[82]

The sheer size and complexity of the planetary ecosystem has proven problematic for the design of practical measures to reach global sustainability. To shed light on the big picture, explorer and sustainability campaigner Jason Lewis has drawn parallel

The sheer size and complexity of the planetary ecosystem has proven problematic for the design of practical measures to reach global sustainability. To shed light on the big picture, explorer and sustainability campaigner Jason Lewis has drawn parallels to other, more tangible closed systems. For example, he likens human existence on Earth — isolated as the planet is in space, whereby people cannot be evacuated to relieve population pressure and resources cannot be imported to prevent accelerated depletion of resources — to life at sea on a small boat isolated by water.[citation needed] In both cases, he argues, exercising the precautionary principle is a key factor in survival.[83]

A major driver of human impact on Earth systems is the destruction of biophysical resources, and especially, the Earth's ecosystems. The environmental impact of a community or humankind as a whole depends both on population and impact per person, which in turn depends in complex ways on what resources are being used, whether or not those resources are renewable, and the scale of the human activity relative to the carrying capacity of the ecosystems involved. Careful resource management can be applied at many scales, from economic sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and industry, to work organizations, the consumption patterns of households and individuals and to the resource demands of individual goods and services.[84][85]

One of the initial attempts to express human impact mathematically was developed in the 1970s and is called the I PAT formula. This formulation attempts to explain human consumption in terms of three components: population numbers, levels of consumption (which it terms "affluence", although the usage is different), and impact per unit of resource use (which is termed "technology", because this impact depends on the technology used). The equation is expressed:

I = P × A × T
Where: I = Environmental impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology[86]

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, human consumption, with current policy, by the year 2100 should be 7 times bigger than in the year 2010.[

One of the initial attempts to express human impact mathematically was developed in the 1970s and is called the I PAT formula. This formulation attempts to explain human consumption in terms of three components: population numbers, levels of consumption (which it terms "affluence", although the usage is different), and impact per unit of resource use (which is termed "technology", because this impact depends on the technology used). The equation is expressed:

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, human consumption, with current policy, by the year 2100 should be 7 times bigger than in the year 2010.[87]

Circularity