Sustainability Definition

In building a State Sustainability Index, it is important to first define and understand the term “sustainability” or “sustainable”. SustainIN has chosen to build our State Sustainability Index in the context of following definition of sustainable development:

The goal of sustainable development is to provide conditions for the growth of humankind’s equity and prosperity without compromising the ability of future generations to meet living standards equal to, or better than, those presently enjoyed by current generations

This definition of sustainable development provided the framework and lens through which the project was viewed and executed. This definition is our own yet was modified from the United Nations’ 1987 Brundtland Commission’s definition: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (United Nations General Assembly 1987).”

The term “sustainable development” is a term typically attributed to developing nations, yet we feel that it is important for developed countries to use a definition that allows for future development and progress. To “sustain” or be “sustainable” is to remain at a fixed level over a given period of time. Our vision for state sustainability is for states to improve, rather than maintain, the level of protection they currently provide for human health and the environment.

While the Brundtland Commissions uses the term ‘needs’, we have instead chosen to use ‘equity’ and ‘prosperity’ as our standard that must be afforded to current and future generations. ‘Needs’ are a general term, and the line between needs and wants can become easily distorted. Humankind’s basic needs extend no further than food, shelter, and water. The SustainIN team seeks to build an index that ensures that more than needs are met, while additionally creating conditions of which existing levels of equity and prosperity are not only afforded but also further grown.

Our use of ‘living standards’ should be defined as: the level of comfort and necessities available to a certain socioeconomic class in a certain geographic area. Comfort as related to living standards should not be based off possessions (the number of cars owned by a family, square footage of a household, etc.) but rather the degree of security and well being seen at a given socioeconomic level.

We believe that our definition of sustainability is a holistic interpretation and will empower states to balance environmental concerns with economic and social progress. Our definition will serve as the foundational framework for building out the final State Sustainability Index.

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