Defining sustainability

What is sustainability?

What is sustainability brochure 

We get asked to define sustainability a lot, and the answer is wondrously complicated. The ASU School of Sustainability is a fascinating place, and every person you meet here will give you a slightly different definition of sustainability. That’s because sustainability really can be applied to almost anything in life.

Most people agree that sustainability has three fundamental pillars – sometimes called the triple bottom line or the Three Ps. First, something that is sustainable is beneficial to us and our communities: – People. Second, it is good for the environment: – Planet. Third, it makes economic sense: – Profit.

At the School of Sustainability, students learn to look at problems and solutions systemically, understanding that no solution can be sustainable unless it fulfills all three sustainability pillars. Sustainability is not about doing “less bad.” It is about doing “more good.” Who can argue with that?

Leaders defining sustainability

Headshot of Dean Chris Boone

Sustainability is improving human well-being and ensuring social equity for present and future generations while safeguarding the planet’s life-supporting ecosystems.

Chris Boone Dean, College of Global Futures
Headshot of ASU President Michael Crow

Sustainability can be summarized as our stewardship of natural capital for future generations, going well beyond economic and environmental development to embrace health care, urbanization, energy, materials, agriculture, business practices, social services and government… Sustainability is a concept with as much transformative potential as justice, liberty, and equality.

Michael Crow President, Arizona State University
Headshot of Julie Ann Wrigley

Sustainability is larger than one person, one company, or one country. Its scope, scale, and importance demand unprecedented and swift solutions to environmental protection and other complex problems.

Julie Ann Wrigley President and Chief Executive Officer, Julie Ann Wrigley Foundation
Headshot of Sander van der Leeuw

Living in harmony with our social and natural environment, based on a sense of justice and equity.

Sander van der Leeuw Foundation Professor, School of Sustainability
Nicole Darnall

Sustainability is the complex intergenerational setting where global ecosystems and human wellbeing thrive together.

Nicole Darnall Professor, School of Sustainability
Headshot of Charles Redman

Sustainability is an awareness of the connectivity of the world and the implications of our actions. It is finding solutions through innovative approaches, expanding future options by practicing environmental stewardship, building governance institutions that continually learn, and instilling values that promote justice.

Charles L. Redman Founding Director and Professor, School of Sustainability
Photo of the Earth from space

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Brundtland Commission 1987 report, Our Common Future

Practitioners defining sustainability

Students defining sustainability