Sustainability Guide

In an era where climate change, water and other environmental issues make daily headlines, the term ‘sustainability’ has become synonymous with ecological sustainability.

But the term and its meaning also includes ethical and economical considerations, as well as environmental ones.

In its broadest sense, ‘sustainable’ refers to the capacity of something to be maintained or kept in existence indefinitely. It therefore also refers to balance. To explore the topic further check our sustainability resources page. Or to find out how to make sustainable choices in your life, see our personal sustainability guide.

The idea of ‘sustainable development’ was first defined in the landmark 1987 report by the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future as: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

Today, the key principles of sustainable development could be summarised as:

  • the ethical principle of intra-generational equity (social justice within generations)
  • the ethical principle of inter-generational equity (fair and equal access to resources between generations)
  • the principle of protecting biodiversity and ecological functions
  • the principle of maintaining economic viability (which depends on a healthy environment), and
  • the principle of deliberate risk aversion to prevent irreversible damage to resources and irresponsible stewardship, known as the precautionary principle.
  • Evaluating the sustainability of actions or systems means anticipating or predicting outcomes where components of a system can be measured and audited, a process known as full-cost accounting or environmental accounting.

Environmental accounting is usually based on ‘the triple bottom line’ which includes not only economic, but also environmental and social performance measures.

Further reading

ECOS ‘definition of sustainability’ series:

The many dimensions of sustainable development (pdf)

Sustaining development through protecting critical capital (pdf)

Applying ´resilience thinking´ for sustainable development (pdf)

Importance of ´ecosystem services´ for sustainable development (pdf)

The pursuit of happiness: sustaining human well-being (pdf)

Balancing living standards and environmental pressures (pdf)

Adaptive governance: how and why does government policy change? (pdf)

Sustainability assessment: accounting for the triple bottom line (pdf)

Putting a value on ecosystem goods and services (pdf)

A climate for true triple bottom line reporting (pdf)

Social change movements (pdf)

Addressing poverty (pdf)

Human decision-making and behaviour (pdf)

Ecos Issue 203 - Table of Contents

Feature Product

Taxonomy of Australian Mammals

Taxonomy of Australian Mammals

A complete taxonomic revision of all Australian mammals, both terrestrial and marine.

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ECOS Archive

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