Sustainability is a complex concept. The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In the charter for the UCLA Sustainability Committee, sustainability is defined as: “the physical development and institutional operating practices that meet the needs of present users without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, particularly with regard to use and waste of natural resources.
Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality. Sustainability presumes that resources are finite, and should be used conservatively and wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences of the ways in which resources are used.” In simplest terms, sustainability is about our children and our grandchildren, and the world we will leave them.
Some other definitions of sustainability:
- Definition from the Environmental Protection Agency
- Resources defining sustainable agriculture from the US Department of Agriculture
- Post from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education regarding defining sustainability in the curriculum
- A scholarly article that gives historical context and discusses methodology for defining sustainability.
For a more detailed explanation, watch this lecture from the UCLA Extension course Principles of Sustainability I, taught by Nurit Katz, UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer.
What is Sustainability?
Learn more information about the UCLA Extension Sustainability Certificate Program.