There are many different ways that the term sustainable has
been applied and defined. There are probably as many definitions as
there are people who are trying to define it. The fact that there are
so many definitions is not a problem; everyone has a different way of
looking at things. In fact, having different definitions provides
many ways to discuss a difficult concept.
I am now going to share with you some of the ways that the idea of sustainability has been
applied by a wide variety of groups and communities. These definitions are similar in many
ways, but it is important to realize that each group came up with its own definition. It
is not necessary that every group have its own unique definition. However, a community
should not use another community's definition or indicators without discussing the definition with
all members of the community to ensure that the definition applies.
All communities are different. What is sustainable in Seattle may not be sustainable in
Tuscon or Miami. What is sustainable in an urban setting may not be sustainable in a
rural setting. However, the process of discussing what sustainability is and how to
measure it is an important step in the process of understanding sustainability.
(When presenting this to a group, the facilitator should select some number of definitions
that are relevant to the group. The point is not to overwhelm people with the many different
definitions of sustainability. In a rural area, show rural examples; for a business
audience, use business examples. It is important to show that the definitions from one
area may also relate to another area; for example, urban and rural communities do have
some points in common and therefore have some aspects of sustainability in common:
everyone needs a job, for example.)