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Defining Sustainability in a Sustainable Way
A Short Paper
Submitted to the
Graduate School
Mindanao State University
General Santos City
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for
BIO 230 (Problems in Environmental Biology)
Joniel Y. Lauren
October 2021
Defining Sustainability in a Sustainable Way
Joniel Y. Lauren1,2
Department of Natural Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences,
Notre Dame of Marbel University, Koronadal City
Graduate School, Master of Science in Biology, Mindanao State University –
General Santos City, General Santos
“Sustainable development is development that meets specific needs of the present, and can be
maintained into the future, without detracting from the satisfaction of other needs in the present
or future.” – Brundtland Commission.
Defining sustainability became a long-term debate for everyone, words such as sustainability,
sustainable development, and related concepts confused most of us. Thus, awakened the attention
of most critics because these concepts of sustainability are of no use since it cannot be adequately
defined. Contributing factors for the misdirection for the appropriate definition of sustainability
are the following, first, it presents the problem as definitional, while in reality it is more about
predicting what will last and reaching agreement on what we want to last, and second, it fails to
account for the concept's need to apply over a wide variety of interconnected time and space scales
(Costanza and Patten, 1995).
The fundamental concept of sustainability is simple: It survives or persists. According to Sutton
(1999), to have a meaningful concept of sustainability, it requires maintaining, renewing and
restoring something specific, including the ethical dimensions of equal exchange and trade-off
between the present pressure brought by the economy and the future needs of the environment. In
biological perspectives, sustainability implies the avoidance of extinction and to survive and
propagate life. However, economically, it ensures avoidance for major disruptions and collapses,
protection against instability and discontinuities. Hence, sustainability, at its core, is always
concerned with time, and particularly with longevity (Costanza and Patten, 1995). However, what
passes for definitions of sustainability are frequently forecasts of activities performed today that
one thinks would lead to sustainability. For instance, keeping harvest rates of a resource system
below natural renewal rates should, one might say, result in a sustainable extraction system – and
this is not a definition but rather a prediction. Similarly, the long-term viability of any economic
system can only be determined after it has occurred.
Therefore, in general, how do we define sustainability? What systems are we sustaining? Are we
focusing on the specific ecological system? Is it a specific species or the totality of all species
(biodiversity)? What is the existing economic system? Is there still a particular culture? A certain
business or industry?
In this context, definitions of sustainability typically end up as a list of desirable qualities, most
frequently related to the global socioeconomic system in the context of its natural life support
system. It must meet the following criteria: (1) a sustainable economic scale in relation to its
natural life-support system, (2) a fair distribution of resources and opportunities among current
and future generations; (3) an effective resource allocation that takes into consideration for
natural capital. (WCED, 1987; Prezzy, 1989; Constanza, 1991).
Because all systems have a finite lifespan, sustainability cannot be defined as "constant operation”.
That’s why, government clearly play a major role in environmental sustainability by imposing
environmental standards and conserve productive inputs and quality of life through regulatory
frameworks, as well as, regulation of plans and actions in economic environment that is cost
enhancing and harmful to the competent of the industries (Wilkinson and Hill, 2001). Government
cannot solve alone the issues about environmental problems and sustaining its resources, if in some
cases, if the economic environment is not being supported. Thus, cooperation of industries and
commercial business to the government is necessary in achieving sustainability. But the increase
of private sectors diminished the power of the government to control the inputs and outputs of the
resources (Peterson, 1993; Garrod, 1998).
Now, why do we believe sustainability is an emergent megatrend?
Environmental concerns have severely undermined companies' ability to produce value for
consumers, shareholders, and other stakeholders during the last ten years. Globalized workforces
and supply networks have resulted in environmental pressures and commercial obligations. The
development of new international powers, most notably China and India, has increased rivalry for
natural resources (particularly oil) and given sustainability a geopolitical component.
Environmental costs like carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption are quickly becoming
substantial, which means that investors and stakeholders want firms to provide information about
them. These factors are being increased by growing public and governmental concern about
climate change, industrial pollution, food safety, and natural resource depletion (Lubin and Esty,
At current population levels and emerging environmental problems, achieving sustainable
operations management is challenging, if not impossible, especially if industrialization continues
apace at current levels of combustion of fossil fuels and use of other natural resources.
Organizations will also need to take a more comprehensive and integrated approach to human
management and environmental concerns in order to be sustainable. Managers, in particular, will
need to reconsider their position, particularly their responsibilities for convincing organizations to
adopt policies that promote a sustainable approach.
Costanza, R. (1991). Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability.
Columbia University Press, New York, N.Y.
Costanza, R. and Patten, B.C. (1995). Defining and predicting sustainability. Ecological
Economics. 15: 193-196.
Garrod, B. (1998), ``Are economic globalization and sustainable development compatible?
Business strategy and the role of the multinational enterprise'', International Journal of Sustainable
Development, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 43-62.
Lubbin, D.A. and Esty, D. (2010). The Sustainability Imperative. The Big Idea. Harvard Business
Sutton, P. (1999). “Sustainability”, Greener Management International Journal, Vol. 23.
Peterson, D.J. (1993). Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction,
Westview Press, Boulder, C.O.
Pezzey, J., (1989). Economic Analysis of Sustainable Growth and Sustainable Development.
Environment Department Working Paper No. 15. The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) (1987). Our Common Future.
Oxford University Press, Oxford.