What does sustainability mean?

The ecological definition of sustainability originated with the Brundtland Report in 1987, which describes sustainable development as a kind of development that satisfies the needs of the present without adversely affecting the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs.

The report highlighted the interconnectedness of economic, social and ecological processes and was the foundation of the three-dimensional concept that was popularised at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. This concept is based on the three connected dimensions of “environment”, “society” and “economy”. It expresses the following idea:

  • Economic, social and ecological processes are connected. The actions of both public and private stakeholders cannot be considered as isolated, one-dimensional aspects; instead, one must consider the interrelationship between the three dimensions of environment, economy and society.
  • Sustainable development means more than just environmental protection. In order to satisfy our material and immaterial needs, we require economic prosperity and a stable society. The effects that current actions will have in the future must be considered (intergenerational aspect) so that future generations will be able to satisfy their needs.
  • Sustainable development involves a long-term structural shift in our economic and social system with the goal of reducing environmental and resource consumption while maintaining economic efficiency and social cohesion.


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Source:  Brundtland-Bericht 1987, Bundesamt für Raumentwicklung ARE

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