Understanding sustainability

This paper forms part of a Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP) series on ‘defining key concepts.’ The idea is to take terms commonly used in development and elucidate their meaning.

‘Sustainability’ is used in many different ways that makes this apparently simple term complicated in practice. Terms such as ‘environmental sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ suggest economic development without degradation or depletion of natural resources. ‘Social sustainability’ is about the well-being of people, their quality of life, and human rights. The UN ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) have much wider application, including all the elements of sustainability mentioned so far and much else. The 17 goals represent an entire framework ‘to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.’

So, away from academic theory, the global framing of the UNDP and the goals of bilateral aid agencies, what does sustainability mean for the people and organizations that do the practical work on the ground? PSJP organized a series of webinars in order to explore how sustainability works in practice, understand the critical things that need to be sustained, and probe how sustainability is measured. The discussions are written up in this paper.

Published by: Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace

Published: February 2019

Download: ‘Understanding sustainability

Other titles in the PSJP Defining key concepts series include: Dignity and development, Leadership and development 2.0 and Measuring social change.

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