Before the concept of sustainability came to be, economics were often what mattered the most. If the interests of society and nature were in conflict with the economy, they had to give way.
In the 1987 Brundtland 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.