Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resource use. In ecology, sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time, a necessary precondition for the well-being of humans and other organisms. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems.
Healthy ecosystems and environments provide vital resources and processes (known as "ecosystem services". There are two major ways of managing human impact on ecosystem services. One approach is environmental management; this approach is based largely on information gained from educated professionals in earth science, environmental science, and conservation biology. Another approach is management of consumption of resources, which is based largely on information gained from educated professionals in economics.
Human sustainability interfaces with economics through the voluntary trade consequences of economic activity. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails, among other factors, international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from controlling living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), to reappraising work practices (e.g., using permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or developing new technologies that reduce the consumption of resources.
A diagram indicating the relationship between the three pillars of sustainability suggesting that both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits.
Environmental dimension Atmosphere, Freshwater and oceans, Land use, Management of human consumption, Energy, Water, Food, Materials, toxic substances, waste
Healthy ecosystems provide vital goods and services to humans and other organisms. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services and the first of these is environmental management. This direct approach is based largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science and conservation biology. However, this is management at the end of a long series of indirect causal factors that are initiated by human consumption, so a second approach is through demand management of human resource use.
Management of human consumption of resources is an indirect approach based largely on information gained from economics. Herman Daly has suggested three broad criteria for ecological sustainability: renewable resources should provide a sustainable yield (the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration); for non-renewable resources there should be equivalent development of renewable substitutes; waste generation should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment.
Economic dimension Decoupling environmental degradation and economic growth, Nature as an economic externality, Economic opportunity
On one account, sustainability "concerns the specification of a set of actions to be taken by present persons that will not diminish the prospects of future persons to enjoy levels of consumption, wealth, utility, or welfare comparable to those enjoyed by present persons." Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity. Sustainability economics represents: "... a broad interpretation of ecological economics where environmental and ecological variables and issues are basic but part of a multidimensional perspective. Social, cultural, health-related and monetary/financial aspects have to be integrated into the analysis." However, the concept of sustainability is much broader than the concepts of sustained yield of welfare, resources, or profit margins
Social dimension Peace, security, social justice, Sustainability and poverty, Human relationship to nature, Human settlements
Sustainability issues are generally expressed in scientific and environmental terms, as well as in ethical terms of stewardship, but implementing change is a social challenge that entails, among other things, international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. "The relationship between human rights and human development, corporate power and environmental justice, global poverty and citizen action, suggest that responsible global citizenship is an inescapable element of what may at first glance seem to be simply matters of personal consumer and moral choice."