How do you define sustainability?

3 Minutes
An overview of key frameworks and models

Sustainability, given its intricate nature, has drawn considerable focus in recent years. This is due to rising concerns about environmental harm, societal disparities, and economic dilemmas. Consequently, numerous models and frameworks have been formulated to better delineate, gauge, and champion sustainability. Below are some pivotal models and frameworks:

Three Pillars of Sustainability (Triple Bottom Line)

Introduced by John Elkington in 1997, this model posits that sustainability hinges on three cornerstones: Economic, Social, and Environmental, often dubbed "Profit, People, and Planet". This model assists businesses and governments in assessing their broader contributions beyond merely financial gains, embracing social equity and ecological accountability. Consider a tripod; if one of its legs is unstable, it risks collapsing. Similarly, sustainability pivots on three fundamentals: Economic stability, social welfare, and environmental stewardship.

Brundtland Definition

The 1987 document "Our Common Future", penned by the World Commission on Environment and Development (commonly known as the Brundtland Commission), elucidates sustainability as fulfilling today's necessities without jeopardising the prospects of future generations. It's analogous to rationing a chocolate bar: savour some pieces now and set aside the rest for later. This principle underscores the importance of prudently utilising resources now whilst ensuring future generations aren't deprived.

Circles of Sustainability

This methodology segments sustainability into four intertwined arenas: Ecology, Economics, Politics, and Culture. It accentuates the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustainability, transcending mere ecological concerns.

Picture four interlocking rings representing Nature, Finances, Governance, and Cultural heritage. Achieving equilibrium demands considerations across these facets.

The Natural Step Framework (TNS)

Originating in Sweden, TNS offers a meticulous strategy for sustainability. It employs foundational scientific tenets to outline criteria essential for any organisation or community's sustainable endeavours. Think of it as a compass leading us towards a sustainable future. Grounded in research, TNS enlightens individuals and entities about the requisite pathways. It's akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle aiming for a holistic picture of sustainability.

Doughnut Economic Model

Devised by Kate Raworth, this model represents the economy through a doughnut analogy. The inner perimeter signifies essential social elements, beneath which lies deprivation. Conversely, the outer boundary delineates the ecological threshold, surpassing which results in environmental degradation. The objective is to inhabit the space between these boundaries, epitomising a harmonious existence.

Ecological Footprint

Created by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, this model quantifies the extent of Earth's resources utilised to sustain specific lifestyles or communities. An overwhelming footprint indicates an "ecological overshoot", signalling resource overconsumption. Imagine footprints on a beach; they should represent our balanced consumption, ensuring equitable resource distribution for all.

Five Capitals Model

This framework identifies five pillars of sustainable capital, which collectively underpin human welfare and services. These pillars encompass Nature, Humanity, Society, Infrastructure, and Finances. Envision these as five reservoirs: Nature (embracing flora and fauna), Humans (incorporating skills and health), Societal bonds, Man-made structures, and Monetary assets. Each reservoir should be adequately filled and preserved for holistic well-being.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Ratified by all United Nations Member States in 2015, these 17 SDGs present a universal blueprint aimed at ensuring global harmony and ecological prudence. They encapsulate the intricate web connecting economic, societal, and environmental sustainability. View it as a collaborative endeavour, where nations rally together to meet objectives like eradicating poverty, bolstering education, and conserving the environment.

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)

Envisioned by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, this design doctrine accentuates the creation of products that, post-usage, are completely recyclable or biodegradable, transforming waste into beneficial resources. Imagine toys that, post-playtime, metamorphose into newer toys or even nourish vegetation! C2C promotes such forward-thinking designs, eliminating wastefulness.

Resilience Thinking

Deriving its essence from systems theory, resilience thinking centres on systems' (be they ecological, societal, or an amalgamation) capacity to adapt and evolve amidst change. The focus is on adaptability, evolution, and shock absorption. It's like an elastic band stretching and then reverting to its original form. This philosophy propounds that our global systems should be robust and agile, adept at navigating challenges.

In wrapping up, sustainability isn't merely an obligation; it's our pledge to future generations that we'll preserve and nurture our shared Earthly abode. It demands collective action, empathy, and judicious decision-making. Understanding sustainability entails acknowledging the diverse lenses each model offers, often complementing one another, to frame a robust strategy and action plan.


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