Limits to sustainability

In 1993, when the United Nation’s Brundtland Commission shared with the world the definition of sustainable development as the one “ that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, probably never imagined the buzz that the world sustainability would have a couple decades later. This not due to the lack of importance and relevance of such concept to the benefit of humankind and the variety of ecosystems in our planet, but due to the broad use the term is having in several fields of science and business. Nowadays is common to hear such concepts as sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism, sustainable architecture, sustainable materials, sustainable marketing, sustainable fashion, sustainable finances, sustainable competitive advantage, sustainable energy, sustainable brands, and sustainable lifestyles, among others… the term is used in such a broad sense that sometimes one stop wondering about the questions behind them and the implications of the concept. Moreover, it is used so commonly that seems like a must do to keep you visible and looking up to date, rather than as the ultimately conclusion regarding the moral, social and environmental implications of our behavior and actions.


It is true that the concept is quite broad and leave space for an immense amount of individual interpretations. Nevertheless, such flexibility and relativity can lead to ambiguities in the application of the concept to actions and behaviors as the limits between the well-being of the present and the survival of the future are not clear and have different scopes according to the sphere of human activities you are looking through. Then, we can face situations where, for example, farmers and ecologists can be discussing for the sustainability of an area with opposite perspectives on how to ensure sustainable conditions: for farmers is to cultivate the land following low-impact procedures and for ecologists to transform the area into a natural reservation… but who is right?, I think that both are right and wrong at the same time. The concept of sustainability needs to be build up upon agreements in every territory and needs to include the moral and ethical implications of every action taken beyond just looking at the preservation of natural resources or the improvements on life quality.


Alternatively, with the boom of climate change issues and the economic crises, it becomes evident that there are other limitations of sustainability. On one hand, whether if we want it or not, sustainable solutions’ implementation are mostly encouraged by need. Thus, some resources are meant to be spend now and their scarcity is a mean to encourage desired innovations. As this have been (so far) the basement of the human survival spirit, sustainability has to wait until the proper time for proper actions to start. On the other hand, the switch towards a common perspective on sustainability lies at the basement of our societal values, and changing those takes a tremendous amount of effort and incentives. Consequently, it is needed to increase awareness over the real implications of sustainability to create proper basis for the concept to be implemented with desirable and unambiguous effects on every field, taking into account that a long-term result is the outcome and that common mindset is the target of change.  

María José Galeano Galván

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