Posts filed under ‘What is Sustainability?’

Wikipedia on “Sustainability”

 Sustainability, in general terms, is the ability to maintain balance of a certain process or state in any system. It is now most frequently used in connection with biological and human systems. In an ecological context, sustainability can be defined as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity into the future.[1]

Sustainability has become a complex term that can be applied to almost every system on Earth, particularly the many different levels of biological organization, such as; wetlands, prairies and forests[2] and is expressed in human organization concepts, such as; eco-municipalities, sustainable cities, and human activities and disciplines, such as; sustainable agriculture, sustainable architecture and renewable energy.[3]

For humans to live sustainably, the Earth’s resources must be used at a rate at which they can be replenished. However, there is now clear scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and that an unprecedented collective effort is needed to return human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits.[4][5]

Since the 1980s, the idea of human sustainability has become increasingly associated with the integration of economic, social and environmental spheres. In 1989, the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) articulated what has now become a widely accepted definition of sustainability: “[to meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[6]

April 26, 2009 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

Sustainability 101 from the University of Minnesota

This article, Sustainability 101, is published by the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network.

Sustainability is the commonsense notion that long-term prosperity and ecological health not only go together, they depend on one another.

Sustainability means long-term cultural, ecologic and economic health and vitality. Or put another way, sustainability is about actions which are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just and humane.

It has also been defined as meeting our needs today while ensuring that future generations can continue to meet their own needs. Sustainability involves preserving the natural environment upon which people and economies depend.

In 1996 the Minnesota Legislature defined sustainable development — the process of moving toward the state of sustainability — as “development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability is different from environmentalism. To elaborate on what Alan AtKisson wrote in his 1999 book “Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist’s World” (read article): Activism to protect Nature from the ravages of the economy and from the typical American lifestyle (traditional environmentalism: the stick) is different than redesigning industry and lifestyles to fit benignly into the natural world (sustainable development: the carrot). Working toward sustainability necessarily engages disparate groups — labor unions, industry leaders, Wall Street, citizen groups, government, academia and others — as well as environmentalists. It offers people a bold, inspiring, very long-term vision.

Two well-accepted sets of sustainability principles—the Natural Step and Cradle-to-Cradle frameworks—establish conditions for how we can develop our products, services, our individual lives, our economy, and our society in a truly sustainable manner.

• What we take, make and waste: The inputs, products, pollution and wastes of our industrial society—originating with fossil and radioactive fuels, mined metals and minerals, synthetic chemicals, pesticides, plastics,etc.—must not accumulate long-term in the environment as wastes. “Wastes” must ultimately be compostable or remain in closed-loop reuse cycles that don’t contaminate compostables. All energy must eventually come directly and indirectly from the earth’s one perpetual source of energy: the sun.

• What we do to the Earth: Biodiversity and natural systems—soils, forests, water, air, genetic material—must not be irreversibly degraded by human activities. Healthy natural systems allow us to eat, drink, and breathe safely.

• What we need: The bounty of the Earth—food, raw materials, natural systems—must be used equitably, fairly and efficiently so that the basic needs of all humans are met locally and globally. Social, economic, and ecologic diversity that builds off the uniqueness of each specific place builds resiliency into geographic regions.

According to Minnesota Planning’s 1998 publication Sustainable Development: The Very Idea (read more), for human activities to be sustainable over time, they should:

• Meet people’s economic and social needs

• Use renewable resources, such as timber and fish, at a rate that can be maintained over time

• Gradually reduce reliance on nonrenewable natural resources, such as coal and oil

• Reduce reliance on and limit the release of toxic substances that do not readily break down in nature

• Use all resources as efficiently and fairly as possible so that present and future generations can meet their needs

• Use land in ways that meet diverse needs, conserve financial and natural resources, and preserve its ability to meet future needs

• Reflect the interdependence of social, economic and environmental conditions

• Preserve the integrity of ecological processes and biological diversity

Another way of thinking about sustainability is to note how communities often work toward becoming more sustainable. These actions often involve each of the following five characteristics (as modified from a discussion in The Eagle Bird: Mapping a New West by Charles F. Wilkinson, 1999, p. 108):

– holistic (combining environmental, social and economic considerations)

– place-based (rooted in a specific geographic location)

– long-term in focus (looking decades or more ahead)

– collaborative and inclusive (welcoming the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders)

– practical and results-oriented (seeking to make a visible and concrete difference)

For a checklist that details over two dozen specific criteria for evaluating the sustainability of proposed community projects, see see list)

For more information about the definition of sustainability, the following web sites are recommended:

Smart Communities Network:

Sustainable Measures:
Article that summarizes nine well-used frameworks of sustainable development.

April 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

e² – PBS Ecology Series

 e² is a critically acclaimed, multipart PBS series about the innovators and pioneers who envision a better quality of life on earth: socially, culturally, economically and ecologically.

The series explores attainable solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges, and its stories are culled from a variety of fields including design, energy, transport, water, food and urban development. Episodes have profiled Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus’s efforts to bring renewable energy to Bangladesh’s rural poor through microfinance; architect William McDonough and his “cradle-to-cradle” design philosophy; and former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s sweeping redesign of that city’s transportation network, emphasizing alternatives to automobile culture.

The 2008 season of e² was presented in two parts, “e² design” and “e² transport”, and will visit Cairo, Nova Scotia, Melbourne, San Francisco, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Seoul. Featured interviews include luminaries like acclaimed author Michael Pollan, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano.

e² is a poetic combination of compelling storytelling, provocative cinematography and an emotive original music score. Narrators include Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Currently entering its fourth season, e² continues to feature new advances in sustainable living, adaptive reuse, eco-efficient transportation and more. e² is directed by Tad Fettig and executive produced by Karena Albers and Fettig, both co-founders of the New York-based production company kontentreal.

Click here to see previews and podcast summaries of previous shows from previous seasons.

Current topic and PBS Hawaii airtimes:
  The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious
     Thursday, March 19, 9:30pm
     Monday, March 23, 1:30am
     Thursday, March 26, 9:30pm
     Monday, March 30, 1:30am

Previous seasons
     London: The Price of Traffic
     Paris: Vélo Liberté
     Food Miles
     Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness
     Portland: A Sense of Place
     Aviation: The Limited Sky

     Harvesting the Wind
     Energy for a Developing World
     Paving the Way
     Growing Energy
     State of Resolve
     Coal and Nuclear: Problem or Solution?

  Design: season one
     A Garden in Cairo
     The Village Architect
     Melbourne Reborn
     The Art and Science of Renzo Piano
     New Orleans: The Water Line
     Super Use

  Design: season two
     The Drunk White Lotus School – Ladakh
     Greening the Federal Government
     Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City
     Affordable Green housing
     Adaptive Reuse in the Netherlands
     Architecture 2030

March 16, 2009 at 2:29 am 1 comment

Defining Sustainability-From Ray Anderson’s Interface Inc.

Sustainability can be many different things – a motto, an ideal, a way to do business, a way to live your life or a call to action. The term “sustainability” is often misunderstood and misused, and not everyone agrees on its definition. In 1997, there were an estimated 350-plus definitions of “sustainability” and “sustainable development.”

Generally, however, there is a commonly understood idea of sustainability – that is, the capacity for continuance into the long term. This concept surfaces throughout history, reflected, for example, in the “seventh generation” philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, which mandated that tribal chiefs always consider the effects of their actions on descendants seven generations in the future.

The most popular recent definition of sustainability can be traced to a 1987 United Nations Conference and states that sustainability in the context of development is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Report of the Brundtland Commission, “Our Common Future,” 1987)

Forum For the Future recently defined sustainable development as ”a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.”

Interface Vision
To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.

Interface Mission
Interface will become the first name in commercial and institutional interiors worldwide through its commitment to people, process, product, place and profits. We will strive to create an organization wherein all people are accorded unconditional respect and dignity; one that allows each person to continuously learn and develop. We will focus on product (which includes service) through constant emphasis on process quality and engineering, which we will combine with careful attention to our customers’ needs so as always to deliver superior value to our customers, thereby maximizing all stakeholders’ satisfaction. We will honor the places where we do business by endeavoring to become the first name in industrial ecology, a corporation that cherishes nature and restores the environment. Interface will lead by example and validate by results, including profits, leaving the world a better place than when we began, and we will be restorative through the power of our influence in the world.

Visit the Interface website.

February 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm Leave a comment

Clean Energy For Maui

chriscleanenergymauislide2 Click here to see Chris Mentzel’s slide show for the December 12, 2008 meeting of the Renewable Energy Committee. The summary addresses the questions:

  • Why do we need renewables?
  • How can we become a sustainable island?
  • PV and wind for homeowners.
  • Questions & Answers.

Click each slide to advance to the next one.

January 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Defining Sustainability: Institute for Sustainability Grassroots Project

Sustainability is a path of continuous improvement, wherein the products and services required by society are delivered with progressively less negative impact upon the Earth

Acceptance of sustainability and sustainability practice is part of ethical behavior and professionalism of scientists, engineers, and business leaders.

Ghandi: Seven Social Sins

  • Politics without Principle
  • Wealth without Work
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Science without Humanity
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Education without Character
  • Worship without Sacrifice

Reality: Eight Social Sins
(per Earl Beaver)

  • Politics without Principle
  • Wealth without Work
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Science without Humanity
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Education without Character
  • Worship without Sacrifice
  • Development without Sustainability

– AIChE Institute for Sustainability, November ‘04-July ‘05 Grassroots Project, Earl Beaver, Chair IFS

January 14, 2009 at 3:06 am Leave a comment

Timeline of Modern Sustainability Developments


Click to enlarge.

Adapted from TNLA Green Magazine

And The Comlex History of Sustainability A timeline of trends, authors,projects and fiction by Amir Djalali with Piet Vollard

Thanks to Infrascape Design (

January 14, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

What is Sustainability – The Hanover Principles

One of the guidelines for action is the sustainability cause, adopted by the designers preparing for the 2000 World’s Fair in Hannover, Germany

  1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition
  2. Recognize interdependence The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects
  3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry, and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness
  4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist
  5. Create safe objects of long-term value Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes, or standards
  6. Eliminate the concept of waste Evaluate and optimize the full life cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste
  7. Rely on natural energy flows Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use
  8. Understand the limitations of design No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled
  9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers, and users to link long-term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity

The Hannover Principles should be seen as a living document committed to the transformation and growth in the understanding of our interdependence with nature, so that they may adapt as our knowledge of the world evolves.

January 13, 2009 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

Model Principles for Sustainable Communities

Source: Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy

A sustainable community is one which:

  1. Recognizes that growth occurs within some limits and is ultimately limited by the carrying capacity of the environment
  2. Values cultural diversity
  3. Has respect for other life forms and supports biodiversity
  4. Has shared values amongst the members of the community (promoted through sustainability education)
  5. Employs ecological decision-making (e.g., integration of environmental criteria into all municipal government, business and personal decision-making processes)
  6. Makes decisions and plans in a balanced, open and flexible manner that includes the perspectives from the social, health, economic and environmental sectors of the community
  7. Makes best use of local efforts and resources (nurtures solutions at the local level)
  8. Uses renewable and reliable sources of energy
  9. Minimizes harm to the natural environment
  10. Fosters activities which use materials in continuous cycles.
    And, as a result, a sustainable community:
  11. Does not compromise the sustainability of other communities (a geographic perspective)
  12. Does not compromise the sustainability of future generations by its activities (a temporal perspective).

January 7, 2009 at 4:14 am Leave a comment

Sustainability Books & Classes

* books available for rent from SMS

University of Hawai’i: Suistainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM)
The Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) is a center with a primary focus on non-credit based community outreach and development activities, as well as complementing UH-Maui College credit-based activities. These activities include the development and dissemination of knowledge and the provision of services to the County of Maui community in various areas of sustainability, particularly renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. Community outreach and workforce development efforts target K-12 and college-level students, teachers and faculty, and community members at-large.

SLIM primarily directs its resources to five focal areas:

  • Curriculum and practicum development for an Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Sustainable Sciences;
  • Adult continuous education (empowering individuals to develop sustainable solutions to personal, business, and community challenges);
  • Employee enhancement (sustainability skills development and knowledge acquisition for practicing professionals);
  • Scholar & Intern Program (“green” workforce development through the acquisition of professional experience and job placement; sustainability focused research undertaken by SLIM supported scholars);
  • K-12 leadership and outreach (sustainability oriented teacher training and knowledge development, identification of sustainability oriented career pathways, K-12 sustainability curriculum development).


Yale Office of Sustainability
Developing and implementing best sustainability practices at Yale

Struggling toward sustainability: considering grassroots development

Sustainable Development Does sustainability count? Environmental policy, sustainable development and the governance of grassroots sustainability enterprise in Ireland

Lewis & Clark Law School Podcast: Developing Grassroots Sustainability Regulations

* Anastasia book 1 by Vladimir Megre’
* Animal,Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
* Gaia’s Garden -A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
* The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan


January 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

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