Mapping Sustainability

Defining Sustainable Development

Different stakeholders in different parts of the world have different views and priorities about what is “real,” what is “important,” and what can or should be done as a result. In the sustainability domain, decision-making and the formation of policy seldom draw on the full range of relevant knowledge or utilize critical resources and overall social capability. Moreover, the complexity of sustainability as a notion, coupled with ambiguities in its meanings and understandings, further reinforce the difficulties of bringing existing knowledge into policy debates.

Sustainable development is the process of meeting the needs of current and future generations without undermining the resilience of the life-supporting properties of nature, or the integrity and cohesion of social systems. 

To become sustainable, a social system needs to be characterized by four "process-conditions."

  • Ecological systems that will demonstrate balance and resilience.
  • Economic and other activities that protect ecological systems.
  • Governance with participation and responsiveness.
  • Institutional performance with adaptation and feedback.

If, and only if, these conditions hold will a sound system tend towards sustainability.