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What is sustainability?

The Basic Definition

Today the word "sustainability" is used more and more frequently, from a wide variety of perspectives and with a number of different purposes in mind. As a result the word is becoming harder to define. The basic definition of sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1987)

The Broader Application

Perhaps more important than the definition of sustainability is the understanding that the practice of sustainability reflects the intersection of three areas of concern for local governments: economy, environment, and equity - often referred to as the "triple bottom line" or "the three e's." Sustainability requires a fresh look at balancing all three areas that in the past may often have been viewed as competing against one another rather than being complementary.

The Local Purpose

While acknowledging the basic definition as well as the triple bottom line of sustainability, local governments should also determine what sustainability means to their community. Before embarking on a sustainability plan or program, it is helpful to get the key players together to discuss their definitions of sustainability as well as the specific purposes they see for the proposed program.Today the word "sustainability" is used more and more frequently, from a wide variety of perspectives and with a number of different purposes in mind. As a result the word is becoming harder to define. The basic definition of sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1987).