University at Albany

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability’s broadest definition entails “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). At UAlbany, this translates into supporting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations. These goals are unique in that they call for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and addresses a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection. (UN Sustainable Development Goals)

Sustainability entails recognizing one's membership in the broader social and ecological community, exhibiting appreciation of and respect for others and the natural world, and acting justly to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of human communities and natural systems (University at Albany, 2012).

To assist in comprehending the wide array of topics that would be covered under the definition of sustainability, the following chart was prepared with key words for each element and a corresponding list of viable topics.

Society – Community

Environment - Stewardship

Economics - Equity

Human interaction

Interaction with the natural world

Ecological valuation

Environmental Justice

Preservation of Environment

Valuation of Externalities

Quality of Life

Climate Change

Lifecycle Analysis

Human Health

Carbon Footprint

Fair Cost Accounting


Prevent Pollution

Employment Security

Mental and Social Well-Being

Conservation of Resources

Fair Compensation

Crime Prevention


Human Rights

Labor rights

Community Enhancement

Development of Social Culture

“Nobody knows how to make a pencil. There's not a single person in the world who actually knows how to make a pencil.  In order to make a pencil, you have to get wood for the barrel. In order to get wood, you have to have logging. You have to have somebody who can manufacture saws. No single person knows how to do all that.  What's called lead isn't lead. It's graphite. It comes from some mines in South America. In order to make pencils, you'd have to be able to get the lead. The rubber at the tip isn't really rubber, but it used to be. It comes from Malaysia, although the rubber tree is not native to Malaysia. It was imported into Malaysia by some English botanists”

“So, in order to make a pencil, you would have to be able to do all of these things. There are probably thousands of people who have cooperated together to make this pencil. Somehow or other, the people in South America who dug out the graphite cooperated with the people in Malaysia who tapped the rubber trees, cooperated with, maybe, people in Oregon who cut down the trees. These thousands of people don't know one another. They speak different languages. They come from different religions.”