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Sustainability may be best understood through the nested model, which shows society as operating within the limits of the biosphere, and the economy operating within society.
This model demonstrates the fact that everything we do depends on what the environment can provide us. Every action we take has an impact on the environment's ability to provide. Complex relationships and feedbacks are at work.
For example, clearing more forests to build roads and properties can mean less rain, more noise, and worsened air pollution. Removing traditional footpaths and beach accesses to make way for hotels can cause residents to experience a disconnection to place and culture.
Instead of allowing for trade-offs, a more holistic view is encouraged. The idea is to find ways to integrate different environmental, social, and economic objectives.
Environment: plants, soil, water, air, animals, minerals, natural processes
Society: people, schools, government, community
Economy: activities that create products and services
Pinning down just what sustainability means and how to turn its principles into practice as an individual, community, and government can be challenging.
This is because people often have their own understanding of the term (or maybe none at all). These conceptualizations have implications for decisions we make in everyday life and the plans we make for the future. This can involve things like:
By using the most logical framework, we can identify if something really is sustainable and use this knowledge to push for policies that work for all of us, including future generations.
The most common definition of sustainability (aka "sustainable development") comes from the United Nations Brundtland Commission (1987).
Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
All sorts of ethical and practical questions follow, but the point is that we have a long timescale to think about.
Because the Earth is limited in its ability to support us, we also have to consider how population carrying cacapity and consumption patterns tie into our understanding of what is sustainable.
As a OnePlanet Community Partner, and by using the One Planet Living principles framework created by Bioregional and WWF, our goal is to create resilient, regenerative communities and regions by enabling community groups to use digital technology to more effectively collaborate with local governments, businesses, and other community groups.