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What is Sustainability?


Sustainability is about living within our means so that the health and bounty of the natural world, upon which all life depends, is preserved for current and future generations.

Conceptually, it is useful to view sustainability in the context of three concentric circles in which society and the economy are within a finite and non-growing environment. Viewed in this way, one can see that if the economy and society were to grow indefinitely, as suggested by the arrows, they would bump up against environmental limits.


What Happens When Unlimited Growth is Faced with Limited Resources?

Graphical representation of the impacts of expanding economic growth and society on environment.


In other words, both economic and population growth put pressure on the planet. Most consumer goods have some sort of ecological impact since they use resources and energy and emit pollutants during their production, manufacturing and transportation. That impact increases with population growth since that means more people need more resources.


Ecological Overshoot

When society’s collective impact exceeds the planet’s capacity to regenerate its natural resources or absorb and filter pollutants -- ecological overshoot -- environmental degradation occurs. We see this happening in our own backyard.

For example, polluted stormwater running into the Chesapeake Bay has had a dramatic impact on the population of oysters and shad. which remain at historically low levels. In addition to impaired water quality and species loss, we are seeing other serious consequences around the world including degraded soils, climate change, habitat loss, and adverse human health, to name just a few.

Creating a sustainable future is among the greatest challenges of our time. It will require enormous political, corporate and individual commitment and will. For ideas regarding how you can reduce your ecological footprint as a resident or a business, see My Green Montgomery and the Green Business Certification Program respectively.

Kids enjoying a restored stream in Montgomery County.
Sustainability is about protecting our natural resources for future generations.