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Sustainability for Home Owners and Business Owners

Most people have a very general understanding of what sustainability means. The Brundtland Report defines sustainability as, “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.[1] ” This definition has been held as a cornerstone in sustainable development, but due to its broad description, many misconceptions and debates have risen.  For example, is it better to buy something disposable local or purchase the renewable material from far away?

The most effective way for a home or business owner to address sustainability is to understand what it really means on a principled level, recognizing how it applies to them, and then creating their own approach on how to strategically achieve their vision of sustainability. The Natural Step, an international non-governmental sustainable development organization, set out over twenty years ago to create a scientific definition for sustainability. What they reached were four science-based principles for sustainability. These principles have been developed over the course of 20 years through teams of international scientists to clearly state, on specific terms, what it means to be sustainable.

The principles state:

In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

  1. concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust,
  2. concentrations of substances produced by society,
  3. degradation by physical means and, in that society...
  4. people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

From this principled understanding, a framework known as the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) was developed for the purpose of helping organizations, communities, businesses, individuals, or any other defined system on how to strategically achieve sustainability. The FSSD framework is based around the concept of ‘backcasting’; which frames the goals with regard to a desired future outcome, systematically proving a step-by-step implementation that offers benefits in the short-term, while retaining a long term perspective. This framework has been successfully applied to multi-national organizations (such as IKEA, Volvo, Nike) as well as entire communities. Whistler, British Columbia, who hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, has set out the Whistler2020 project for achieving sustainable development by the year 2020. To learn more about FSSD and the Sustainability Principles see The Natural Step. [2]

[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. 2005. Sustainable Development- concept and action. http://www.unece.org/oes/nutshell/2004-2005/focus_sustainable_development.htm. (Accessed August 2, 2008).
[2] The Natural Step Canada. The Four System Conditions. http://www.thenaturalstep.ca/system-conditions.html. (Accessed on July 28, 2008).