What does sustainable mean

Most people get the meaning of sustainable wrong.

In the context in which it is typically used, sustainable is equated with terms, such as renewable, environmentally-friendly, ecological, healthy, fair, etc.

Unfortunately, none of these words represent what sustainability is about. While all products should ideally be environmentally-friendly, healthy and fair, it doesn’t automatically guarantee they are sustainable.

Whether something is sustainable or not doesn’t depend on its characteristics. Rather, it’s the state of the entire system that determines if we are sustainable.

Let me explain.

The definition of sustainability states that we must be able to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This includes all needs and all people, present and future. Not some needs of some people.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter if your clothes, for example, are made from a material that is sourced responsibly, regrows quickly, is fully recyclable or compostable, when — at the same time — millions of people around the world are starving. Or, when the rate at which we’re consuming resources directly threatens our very ability to survive as a species.

Sustainability refers to the whole system, not its individual parts. In other words, nothing is sustainable until everything is sustainable!

That’s the true meaning of sustainable.