What does sustainability mean?

What does it mean to be sustainable? It’s a ubiquitous word these days, but I’m not sure it has been adequately defined. To sustain is to continue, to maintain. While maintenance has its charms, I don’t believe the status quo is adequate when one is dealing with the environment. The triple bottom line asks us to consider how our actions affect the planet, its people, and what we are producing. Merely sustaining in any of these three categories will not move us forward; in fact, in the face of global warming, sustaining may effectively push us back.

I’ve heard some pundits offer the word resilience as a substitute. Resilience is vital, yes. Darwin’s point – often misquoted – was that the organisms that were most adaptable (not necessarily the strongest or the most “fit”) were the ones that prospered and won the right to pass their genes on to the following generations.


So should we aim for resilience rather than sustainability in our systems, products, programs, and lifestyles? Is resilience the next logical step in the evolution of sustainability? I’ll be pondering this in my heart – and mind – as I blog. And I’d really like to hear from you on the subject. What do you think? Is sustainability a good working term to describe the elements of a green lifestyle? Is it a term that applies equally to personal lives filled with composting, recycling, adoption of green energy, and conservation as well as the corporate/larger existence? What does it mean to live sustainably? To aim for sustainability at work and in our communities?

I look forward to hearing your ideas on the subject. I like to think that my views are adaptable, and I truly believe this conversation should include lots of voices and viewpoints. In the interim, I will be posting about the various topics that I think fall under the umbrella of sustainability/better term we have yet to define. Some of these include smart water and energy use, green infrastructure, the ever-evolving solar energy oeuvre, green building practices, climate change, carbon off-sets, recycling/upcycling, rainwater and greywater systems, smart city planning, and composting to list a few. I’m sure other shiny topics will catch my attention along the way, and I will explore them as well.

Until then, I’ll be composting and tending my fall garden.

Please let me know your thoughts on the sustainability definition conundrum.


Jennifer Carlile

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