Sustainability – its meaning across sectors, updated 2016

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Sustainability (from sustain and ability) means something different to different sectors:

Z/Yen Group points out that the most important role of sustainability within the financial services system is the allocation of financial capital between different economic activities, while Sustainable Development is an approach to development which embraces both commercial and non-commercial aspects of societies progress in an attempt to balance different, and often competing needs, against the environmental, social and economic limitations we face as a society.

Sustainable Development has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In ecology, sustainability is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands, forests and coral reefs are examples of sustainable biological systems.

Sustainability science is generally presented as the study of Sustainable Development and Environmental Science.

The premise behind Clarity’s work is that business and industry role in economic systems can only be sustainable if it measurably contributes to economic activity which decouples resource use and environmental impact from GDP and aligns human well-being with GDP.

Clarity recommends True Value Accounting as the sustainability measurement system working towards True Value Economies.


Bending the trends

Above: The overall goal for sustainability is to ‘bend the trends’ – aligning (bending) economic activity (say GDP) to meet human well-being – which always has a greater value than economic activity – and decoupling (bending) resource use and environmental impact from GDP. Graphic Source: European Environment Agency (EEA) /United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2011.

A most impressive piece of work by business and industry, proposing stages required to achieve a sustainable world by 2050, is Vision 2050  of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – some 200 of the world’s largest corporations.Vision 2050  published in 2010,  indicates that a commitment to True Value pricing is a ‘must have’ by the year 2020. WBCSD consider action a priority in a number of areas: energy and power; buildings; mobility; materials; governance; people development, behaviour, values; agriculture and fisheries; forests; ecosystems and biodiversity.


Above: WBCSD’s  Vision 2050, where a commitment to True Value pricing is a ‘must have’ by the year 2020, for achieveing a sustainable world by 2050. Source WBCSD, 2010.

Vision 2050 is also summarised in a further article as analysed in the project Future Business, Long Finance.

WBCSD has recently introduced Changing Pace, an invitation to governments, policy makers, civil society and business leaders to engage in a debate on the policies required to help achieve Vision 2050.

Updated March 2016 SNJ