Definition of "What is sustainability?"

Ellen Reese,  CNE, CRS real estate agent

Written by

Ellen Reese, CNE, CRSelite badge icon

Coastal Properties Group

In the Brundtland Report, the United Nations defined sustainable development as the kind of development that satisfies present societal needs without affecting future generations and their ability to meet their own needs. Through sustainability, we acknowledge that the world’s resources are finite, and we should be more conservative about using them. We have to satisfy the current generation's needs without leaving the resource pool depleted for when the next generations come along.

Living in a sustainable society would mean that we are socially and environmentally responsible. We can achieve the spread of environmental awareness and the focus on environmental protection through equilibrium between the human and natural systems. This is detrimental to humanity’s survival, as we depend on nature to survive, but nature would thrive and balance itself out without us.

Why is Sustainability Important?

The need for a global implementation of sustainability is vital, and looking at the pros and cons related to sustainability is pointless. It’s something that we, as a society, need to do to maintain our survival. The Earth’s ecosystems are struggling under the weight of human-generated pollution, and sustainable choices need to be made. If our modern way of life won’t change, every Sci-Fi apocalyptic movie from Mad Max to Maze Runner will likely come true. So if you’re not a fan of never-ending sands and a scorched Earth, implementing changes is the only way to go.

We can list all the animal species that havegone extinct and talk for hours about the ones that are near extinction, but we are still waiting for the results of that rhetoric. Sadly, our caring abilities only go as far as we can throw, and most of us will probably never see a live elephant in the wild, so let’s bring the rhetoric closer to home. 


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Climate change is starting to affect human life and not only in third-world countries anymore. New York City was flooded and impacted by severe thunderstorms and snowstorms in 2021, unlike what happened in the past. The Floridian coast is under flooding threat multiple times a year. Texas gets buried under snow every winter. California, Nevada, and Oregon have seasonal wildfires. And that is only within the US.

Human life is affected by unsustainable decisions across the globe, and most of us aren’t even aware of how we, as individuals, impact this. We should all strive to adhere to sustainability principles and promote entities that do the same.

The Principles of Sustainability

There are, in total, 27 principles of sustainability established between the 1980s and 1990s. However, for the purpose of this quick FAQ, we will focus on the three main pillars of sustainability.  These are focused on the three elements that guide today’s society and are vital for the functionality of life as we know it: profit (because that’s the only thing that makes the world go round), planet (because it’s our home and we should treat it way better than we actually do), and people (because we want to live).

  1. Environmental Protection - this principle focuses on decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere, reducing our way of life’s carbon footprint, decreasing resource consumption (water being the stuff of life), and stopping any type of wasteful processes that work only to poison our planet further. - the opposite of this is environmental pollution and exhaustion of resources.
  2. Social Development - this principle considers how employers treat their employees and underlines the needs of people in the workspace, the life-work balance, how the community is affected by business and industries in the area and ensures an ethically produced produce and profit. - the opposite of this is modern slavery.
  3. Economic Development - this principle focuses on a business’s profit and how that profit is used to sustain growth for the company’s future. It is the most straightforward principle to adhere to if companies were to stick to it alone, but the trick is to adhere to the other two as well. Otherwise, it will be profitable for the sake of profit at the expense of the environment and human life. - the opposite of this is the insurmountable wage gap between employees and the CEO that reached 300% this year.

The following section will cover a few examples of sustainability’s application in society.


Use each technology you have around the house for an extended period of time. Stop replacing your phone if it’s still working, but a new one is available (looking at iPhone users in particular) and try to fix them if possible.


Consumer cars are to blame for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not airplanes, cargo ships, or busses; it’s the cars we all bend over backward to drive, buy, use and invest in. Driving a car alone is the biggest consumer problem because cars have 4-5 seats. Occupying every seat will divide the carbon footprint for each passenger, while 4 or 5 cars will only multiply it. Now think how busses work, or bikes, or, God forbid your legs.


Fast fashion is the consumeristic plague of the planet. Around 75% of all fashion materials have plastics in them, and only a small percentage of those can be recycled. And guess what? Recycling isn't the answer. Hemp, organic cotton, and slow fashion are the answer. The problem is the push for continuous use of fossil fuels by the few who own it and control the market with it.

Food and Agriculture

Organic farming and biomimicry practices are far less polluting than general farming practices. The food you buy in the grocery store near you contains not only tortured animals and pesticide-packed plants, but we could not sell most of it in the rest of the world. Americans who move to Europe are losing weight even if they buy the exact same products. The difference is that the EU forbade some of the ingredients and chemicals found in foods, which shows on the consumer’s scale.


Going paperless, plasticless, and as wasteless as possible are sure ways through which each company can decrease its carbon footprint. How they treat their employees matters as well. Manufacturing products for the local market through sustainable practices and a push for a circular economy will further influence the community in which they operate and the life of everyone involved in the process. No one want’s to be poisoned by their employers. Just as DuPont employees and see what they have to say.


If a city has strong environmental, social, and economic performances, it can be considered a sustainable city. A high percentage of green spaces per square footage and population is important, but so are public transportation, sustainable job opportunities, energy consumption, and suppliers. Sustainable cities will be more capable of adapting to future climate changes than those that are stuck in the industrial age.


The best thing every consumer can do is think twice before letting go of the money they have. Better financial education is necessary and understanding that buying a t-shirt for $10 every other month is most costly than buying one for $100 that will last you ten years. The quality of the products we purchase should be the first thing we look at and not the price tag because a cheap product will last about as much as it took you to make that money. Change the world with your finances and stop sustaining a diseased system that only benefits the few.

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