A new way of thinking about sustainability

The journal Nature published a commentary on March 21 that argues for a new way of thinking about sustainability, with the traditional three pillars of economy, environment, and society instead conceptualized as a nested set, as in the illustration below.

Sustainable Development Goals

As the global population increases towards nine billion people sustainable development should be seen as an economy serving society within Earth’s life support system, not as three pillars,” says co-author Dr. Priya Shyamsundar from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, Nepal.

Is the three pillars of sustainability model outdated and no longer serving us? We  find ourselves often struggling to fully integrate our own thinking – humans are categorizers, a trait that has served us well throughout history up until recent times. But now it is obvious that even our conception of sustainability has been flawed and does not reflect reality.

This new way of thinking about sustainability comes in the wake of last week’s UN meeting on the definition of sustainable development goals. The researchers believe that “ending poverty and safeguarding Earth’s life support system must be the twin priorities for the Sustainable Development Goals.

We find ourselves still struggling to convince people that the economy and environment are not in conflict and that the economy should be designed for human well-being. Perhaps with this new concept, thinking will begin to shift.

“Ultimately, the choice of goals is a political decision. But science can inform what combination of goals can achieve a sustainable future. And science can identify measurable targets and indicators,” said Dr Stafford Smith.

At the Council for Watershed Health, we believe that identifying and tracking measurable goals is vital to achieving that sustainable future. These new Sustainable Development Goals and the conceptual model should be adopted to advance “The Future We Want.”

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