What is sustainability?

As a concept, sustainability goes far beyond just climate protection. It means dealing responsibly with the earth’s limited resources while creating a sustainable society and promoting social justice.

Sustainability Briefly Summarised

Sustainability means conserving the use of resources such as habitats, raw materials, energy or human labour. Humanity should use these resources in such a way that they can be maintained over a long period of time, rather than being depleted. They key idea here is being mindful of future generations, which is why sustainability is sometimes also referred to as “future viability” and “intergenerational equity”.

Climate protection is thus an intrinsic part of sustainability. It’s about actively considering the environment, economy and society and making the effort to bring them into balance.

The Three Dimensions of Sustainability

Sustainability can only be achieved in a society if it is pursued on three levels – environmental, economic and social. This is the central message of the approach commonly known as the three dimensions of sustainability, which were first presented in the Brundtland Report in 1987. These three dimensions are the environment, society and the economy. The concept emphasises the close connection between economic, social and environmental processes.

Essentially, the three dimensions underline the fact that purely environmental sustainability is not enough on its own, as economic, social and environmental processes are always interconnected. The climate crisis illustrates this clearly. It has an obvious environmental component: temperatures are soaring, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising. At the same time, this has serious consequences for the economy and society. For instance, extreme weather events lead to crop failures and droughts, causing famine in developing countries.

For this reason, the actions of public and private stakeholders should always be considered as interlinked, taking sufficient account of the interdependencies between the different dimensions – environment, economy and society. To give one example, companies should not achieve their economic profits at the expense of underpaid workers. These kinds of business practices lead to poverty and social injustice, and are not in line with the principles of sustainability because they ignore the social dimension.

The most important facts in brief:

Environmental sustainability
- Focuses on ecological and environmental aspects like the reduction of
  greenhouse gas emissions.
- Objective: To protect and preserve the earth and its natural resources
- Focus on environmental quality and resource conservation

Economic sustainability
- Centred around economic aspects
- Objective: Long-term generation of profit without depleting resources
- Focus on economic stability and business continuity
- Recent discussions have also addressed degrowth and zero growth

Social sustainability
- Focus on creating a stable, fair and inclusive society in which everyone can
- Objective: Ensuring human dignity and respect for human rights across multiple
- Focus on poverty, work and the fair distribution of social burdens

Environmental Sustainability

The term “sustainability” was coined over 300 years ago by the forestry expert Hans Carl von Carlowitz. In his groundbreaking book on forestry in 1713, von Carlowitz defined sustainability as the principle of harvesting only as much as can be regrown in nature. The idea is to create a stable balance in the environment, thus ensuring the long-term preservation of ecosystems.

While the aim of renewable raw materials is to allow for enough time for their regeneration, dealing with non-renewable resources like petroleum or coal has a different focus. In this case, it is about reducing consumption, promoting recycling, developing alternative technologies and accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources.

For example, many companies can reduce their carbon footprint by using less oil and gas and instead relying on electricity from renewable sources (decarbonisation).


Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability means doing business successfully without causing long-term damage to the resources required. The aim is to ensure that raw materials, goods and capital will continue to be available in the future. In other words, it’s not just about short-term profit, but also about long-term access to vital resources.

In a sustainable economy, companies aim not only to make profit, but also promote fair trade, environmental protection and social justice. Sustainable companies take responsibility and make a positive contribution to society.


Social Sustainability

Social sustainability revolves around one key question: how can we shape our society today in such a way as to ensure that everyone can lead a decent life in the future? The aim is to create a stable society in which all members can participate and human rights are guaranteed across generations.

The goal of social sustainability is a dignified life for everyone. This includes the fair distribution of social burdens, combating poverty, reducing unemployment and creating fair jobs. Every member of society should be able to develop their full potential.


UN Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a vision for a sustainable future, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015.

This landmark document is made up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were set as the UN’s policy objectives for the year 2030. The SDGs span economic, social and environmental considerations, with the overarching goal of ensuring sustainable development worldwide.


How Can We Achieve Sustainable Development?

Achieving sustainable development requires collaboration between private individuals, companies and government bodies. These three groups of stakeholders should consider the long-term impact of their actions to ensure that the needs of future generations can be met.

This requires long-term change in our economic and social system geared towards questioning the status quo and evaluating how humanity produces and consumes resources and energy.

What can we do to support this change? Everyone can play their part in combating climate change and contributing towards sustainable development. We’ve put together some meaningful measures for counteracting climate change as private individuals.


How Is myclimate Contributing towards the SDGs?

myclimate places particular emphasis on positive environmental, social and economic effects when planning and designing climate protection projects and is actively committed to helping to achieve all 17 SDGs, which includes continuously measuring how this contribution can be quantified.

Brundtland Report 1987, Swiss Office for Spatial Development (ARE)
Germany: Federal Office of Sustainable Development
Austria: Federal Chancellery
Switzerland: Swiss Office for Spatial Development (ARE)
Federal Office of Culture
Carlowitz, Hannß Carl von (2009): Sylvicultura Oeconomica oder haußwirthliche Nachricht und Naturmäßige Anweisung zur Wilden Baum-Zucht. Reprint der 2. Aufl. Leipzig, Braun, 1732. Remagen-Oberwinter: Kessel.



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