Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 1 - Definitions of Sustainability

sand dunes with cloudy blue skyEcologist C. S. Holling forwarded the notion that “Sustainability is the capacity to create, test, and maintain adaptive capability.” That adaptive capability arises from the concept that all systems, natural and human, are in constant cycles of creation and destruction, invention and revolution, some of these passing by rapidly, and some quite slow relative to the human time scale. We develop opportunity, and in doing so, we must craft sustainable development.

Holling says, “Sustainable futures are ones in which the basic means of human livelihood get easier, human opportunities become richer, and nature's diversity is more sustained — and not only in the rich parts of the world. Utopian, perhaps, but the resilience of nature and the ingenuity of people would make it feasible, if our institutions and those who utilize and control them had sufficient flexibility and vision.”

This is a compelling challenge for our future, as individuals, as communities, and as organizations and institutions of government, commerce, and shared values and purpose. Vision is about changing the world. Visions are exclusively about changes that would happen only because you want to realize them they change an undesirable trajectory. A shared vision can be a powerful motivation towards a positive future. For a sustainable future, our vision must be specific, not fuzzy, and it must couple the human knowledge of the past, while taking action for practical change for our future.

In the end, any vision for a more sustainable future, without action, is meaningless. We must create and own our future by melding our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations with meaningful, purposeful action. Only then we can say to future generations, our children and our children’s children, ...yes, we thought of you.

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  1. "Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development" by J. Robinson. Ecological Economics. Volume 48, Issue 4, 20 April 2004, pp. 369-384.