A Definition of Sustainability
In order to find an answer, it is necessary to somehow define sustainability. The MSLS-program works together with an NGO called The Natural Step, founded by BTH-professor Karl-Henrik Robèrt. Amongst other things, they use the same definition of sustainability:
In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing …
- … concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust,
- … concentrations of substances produced by society,
- … degradation by physical means,
- … and in that society there are no structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning-making.
These guiding sentences are called the Sustainability Principles. If the principles are followed, then sustainability becomes possible. The first three principles are concerning environmental sustainability, principles four to eight (summarized above in 4.) address social sustainability*.
Environmental sustainability means that the environment should not be systematically destroyed or harmed. The extraction of substances from the Earth’s crust, e.g. of fossil carbon, should be avoided. There should be no concentration of substances produced by humans, e.g. of CFCs. Also the environment should not be degraded, e.g. through over-harvesting of forests or over-fishing.
Social sustainability means that people should not be exposed to conditions leading to injury or illness and conditions that hinder them from participating in shaping social systems. Also, they should not be stopped from gaining competence, unequal treatment should be avoided and people should have the possibility to create meaning.
While the environmental principles feel very tangible to me, the social principles sometimes feel a little vague and it helps to know what they are based on. One aspect I like to focus on that is crucial for a sustainable society is that there is trust between people and in societal institutions. Trust is the glue that holds societies together and therefore crucial for social sustainability.