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What is sustainability?

Before the concept of sustainability came to be, economics were often what mattered the most. If the interest of society and nature were in conflict with the economy, they had to give away. 

In the 1987 Brundland report sustainable development is defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." The focus is such that the perspectives of society and nature are equal to that of economy. 

A more holistic understanding of sustainability emphasises that economy and society are part of a closed system. Growth cannot extend beyond the definite limits of nature. Resources are limited and the ability of the environment to maintain vital processes is easily disrupted. 

It is generally accepted that the current path of humanity bears clear signs of unsustainability. People's ideas in the more affluent parts of the world about "the good life" have led to consumption far beyond what the earth can support. While part of humankind uses the earth's resources in excess, others get less than their share. 

The task of the people of earth is to change their thinking and their actions such that the limits of nature are respected both in word and deed. In this lies the core of the concept sustainability

Sustainability is a vast concept. It comprises not only the environment, but also social justice, health and welfare, culture and economic livelihood. It revolves around awareness that nature sets the boundaries for human activities. It also involves acknowledgement that before all mankind lies the socially complex task of reconciling ideas and expectations about „the good life“ with natural limits.

University of Iceland can contribute to sustainability in three ways: Firstly, through the search for knowledge itself and the work of teachers and students within the university. Secondly, the University plays an important role in connecting scientific knowledge to the community in a responsible way. Thirdly, the University can serve as a model of sustainability through its own organisation, management and overall policy.

As a powerful and comprehensive research institution the University of Iceland can contribute to knowledge and understanding in the field of sustainability at the national and international level. All five schools of the University are involved in this. There are currently various relevant areas of research and teaching ongoing at the University. Education and research in the field of sustainable development often requires a cross-disciplinary approach and collaboration as well as depth and expertise in specific disciplines across all areas of knowledge.

Academic freedom in research carries an ethical responsibility to nature and people, that is, the earth and its inhabitants. In light of the fact that understanding of the concept of sustainability is still in formation, knowledge of sustainability is increasing and new information continually emerging, university researchers need to weigh and evaluate their choice of research fields.

It is significant that the results of scientific research in the field of sustainability find a channel outside the University so that the University and the community can work together purposefully and effectively. Faculty and students have an ethical responsibility to participate in projects, discussions and conferences about sustainability in Iceland and abroad.