Sustainability is often described as a three-legged stool. Just as a stool needs three legs for stability, we need to consider the impacts of our plans and actions in the three areas of sustainability:
Only when we take the impacts on all three areas into account do we arrive at solutions that are truly sustainable.
The top of the stool has the infinity symbol, indicating the perpetual, ongoing nature of sustainable solutions. When we take into account the three areas of sustainability; our economy, our environment and our society, in all of our actions, we do our best to ensure that the benefits of what we do today will also benefit future generations.
The definition of sustainability that resonates with me is the definition of the Brundtland Commission from 1989. The definition adopted by the commission in their report is "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The commission was created by the United Nations to address growing concern "about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development." In establishing the commission, the UN General Assembly recognized that environmental problems were global in nature and determined that it was in the common interest of all nations to establish policies for sustainable development.”
Although the commission dealt specifically with sustainable development, the definition can be applied to any activity. A sustainable economy, a sustainable region and even a sustainable business can also be defined in the same manner. Unless we begin to recognize and respect the connections between ourselves, the environment and the economy, we will be unable to tackle the problems of the 21st century.