Sustainability – Concept, types, difference with sustainability

We explain what sustainability is and its economic, social and ecological axes. In addition, the principles of a sustainable society.

The sustainability of a society depends on the way it uses its resources.

What is sustainability?

Currently, we speak of sustainability or sustainability to refer to the capacity of a system or a production model to satisfy three axes fundamental critics:

  • Economic axis: It implies its profitability.
  • Social axis: Aiming for equity.
  • Ecological axis: That is, don’t ruin the environment in the process.

The search for a sustainable society model, then, means that an attempt is made to build one that meets these three requirements, so that it can last and endure indefinitely.

The concept of sustainability was taken from ecology, where it is used to describe the relationships that a species is capable of weaving with its environment, to guarantee a prolonged existence through balance. Said in economic terms, it is a dynamic of exploitation of resources that remains below the limit of their renewal.

The latter is vital for human societies, whose demand for resources is, according to certain traditional economic postulates, infinite. There will always be a need for more and new resources to keep society productive.

However, depending on how these resources are obtained, it is possible to destroy our own society in the process, or destroy the environment and be left with no planet to live on (and no resources to exploit), or we can build an insufficient model that does not allow us to live as we wish.

These last three cases are unsustainable scenarios, that is, they cannot last in time, since they inevitably lead to the crisis and to the end of the model itself.

Therefore, sustainability consists of moving in the opposite direction in all three fields, as proposed, in terms of urgent need, in the 1987 Brundtland Report, the work of the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939- ), under the title of “Our common future” (“Our Common Future” in English).

Sustainability or sustainability?

Both terms are valid when referring to the same. The two words are listed by the Royal Spanish Academy as synonymous, since they refer, broadly, to the same thing: the possibility of something to last over time, or to provide oneself with the elements that it needs to do so.

Economic sustainability

When we talk about economic sustainability, we mean the possibility of a system to generate sufficient and equitable wealth to guarantee a model of life that satisfies minimum human needs without sacrificing future generations in the process, and that at the same time makes it possible to strengthen production and consumption.

Social sustainability

social sustainability
Social sustainability includes sustaining the access of the whole society to education.

For its part, social sustainability refers to the possibility of a system promoting a society of positive, equitable and conscious values, that is, with a good standard of living (beyond the economic): access to culture, human development, training and the expression of one’s own talents and ideas, and that at the same time reproduces in future generations the values, precisely, of sustainability.

Environmental sustainability

In this case, sustainability refers to the responsibility of every human system towards the environment and nature, that is, to the promotion of a model that coexists harmoniously and efficiently with the planet, and that it does not sacrifice its biological and geological richness to satisfy fleeting human ambitions.

A sustainable society must necessarily be ecological, since ending the planet we live on, although it does not seem necessary to remember it, is not an option.

Principles of a sustainable society

A sustainable society, that is, a society whose model is capable of ensuring itself and its continuity over time, while satisfying the three fundamental axes of which we have already spoken, must also necessarily comply with these four principles basic:

  • It must promote a peaceful culture and social justice. Since war and fighting inevitably lead to instability, destruction and waste of resources, a sustainable society must invest in the protection of life and cultural heritage, the maximization of education at all levels, political dialogue and social, and equal opportunities between people.
  • You must use your resources wisely. The constant contradictions between economic development and environmental preservation within industrial society are a challenge to solve for a sustainable society. This probably requires a more responsible management of available resources, a healthier and more conscious consumption model, and a commitment to limiting the human footprint on the environment, so that future generations do not receive a ruined world.
  • It must guarantee the satisfaction of basic human needs. This is a point that cannot be left aside in any sustainable society, since inequality, poverty, the marginalization of entire sectors of the population and other similar social ills inevitably lead to sociocultural deterioration and class hatred, violence and economic asymmetry. An impoverished and deprived society, whose individuals compete violently with each other for resources, will hardly dedicate great efforts to preserving the environment, for example.
  • It must adhere to a fair and democratic system. Political, social and cultural freedoms are an inalienable intangible asset of humanity, and in that sense no dictatorship or tyranny could aspire to be sustainable. Democracy, in its many forms, as well as a healthy and participatory civil society, and a robust set of institutions, are guarantors of social peace and allow different social sectors to cooperate with each other, instead of competing, or to serve each other mutually counterbalanced.