What does sustainable mean?

updated 7th Jan 2015

Sustainability, sustainable, sustainable development.  These words are seen as A Good Thing and are sprinkled liberally throughout many official documents and bandied about in discussions about planning, prosperity and predictions.

When certain ideas are described as sustainable, it does make us wonder if the person actually understands the meaning or is just including it to pay lip service to a concept that they have yet to grasp fully.

Once you read a few dictionary definitions (below) – it makes the greenwash clear.  Our take on it is that if there is no clear indication of how the sustainable aspect of whatever will be achieved, then there is unlikely to have been much thought invested, beyond using a buzzword to bamboozle.

The Cambridge Dictionary online has two definitions of sustainable:

1. able to continue over a period of time

2. causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time

The Financial Times Lexicon quotes the World Council for Economic Development (WCED)’s definition of  sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

So our definition of sustainable would be:  achievable without fouling our own nest or anyone else’s, now or in the future.

Unfortunately there tends to be an ‘either/or’ mentality relating to economic success and/or environmental considerations, but they can be combined.  What’s the point of wealth generation if at the expense of our health and the health of our surroundings?  There are case studies of sustainable business in Green Futures magazine, showing the possibilities.

More on the ‘how’ of a sustainable and thus resilient lifestyle can be found on this newsy personal Resilient Communities website.  Although U.S.A.-based, the author finds news items of practical and thought-provoking interest on all manner of topics.

Another angle is food, with the UK Sustainable Food Cities project providing ideas and funding.

Steps towards a locally resilient and future-proof Congleton