Perspectives on Sustainability

Perhaps it is the vague definition of sustainability that has made it so popular in political and economic discussions. I believe we need to sharpen the definition of sustainability if we are to use it as a goal for management.

Below are two perspectives on sustainability. The first by an economist and the second by an ecologist. It has been instructive to initially compare and contrast the two and then identify the strong common under current that binds them together.

An Economist’s Perspective

Three Rules of Sustainability

  1. The sustainable use of renewable resources requires that consumption not be greater than the rate at which resources regenerate.
  2. The sustainable use of nonrenewable resources requires that the rate of consumption not be greater than the pace at which renewable substitutes can be put into place.
  3. The sustainable pace of pollution and wastes requires that production not be greater than the pace at which natural systems can absorb, recycle, or neutralize them.

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.” – Herman Daly, PhD.

Herman E. Daly, PhD. is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. From 1988 to 1994 he was senior economist in the Environment Department of the World Bank. Prior to 1988 he was alumni professor of economics at Louisiana State University, where he taught economics for twenty years. He was co-founder and associate editor of the journal Ecological Economics. His interest in economic development, population, resources, and environment has resulted in over a hundred articles in professional journals and anthologies, as well as numerous books, including Steady-State Economics (1977; 1991); Valuing the Earth(1993);  Beyond Growth (1996); Ecological Economics and the Ecology of Economics (1999); Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development (2007); and From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy (2014).


An Ecologist’s Perspective

” ….. the subject of con­servation is the process of adjustment and adaptation of the natural world to a changing template and content, we can examine the social analog. When societal value is attached to the ecological and evolutionary phenomena of adjustment, the target of sustainability emerges. The goal of conservation, under a set of social values that recognizes the importance of the ongoing adjustment of the natural component of the ecological systems of Earth, is sustainability — sustainability of the processes that produce resources, beauty, and all the rest. So conservation science is in reality a dialog between the biodiversities and social values, carried out in the language of ecological and evolutionary processes. It is a hard but rewarding dialog ….. ” Steward T.A. Pickett, PhD.

Dr. Steward T.A. Pickett, plant ecologist. Recipient of the Ecological Society of America's 2021 Eminent Ecologist Award, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the founding director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (1997-2016), Pickett also co-directed the Urban Sustainability Research Coordination Network. This project established lasting, interdisciplinary connections between urban designers, policymakers, and managers; the National Science Foundation deemed the project a model for research coordination networks.


I suspect that not everyone will agree with both or either of these perspectives. But, I hope that they might encourage a broader and more inclusive dialogue about our efforts to ensure a sustainable future for human society.


Posted: September 28, 2021

Category: Conservation
Tags: Ecological Sustainability, Economic Sustainability, Sustainability

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