Sustainability can be defined as the practice of maintaining processes of productivity indefinitely—natural or human made—by replacing resources used with resources of equal or greater value without degrading or endangering natural biotic systems. According to M. Hasna, sustainability is a function of social, economic, technological and ecological themes. Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social, political, and economic challenges faced by humanity. 

As early as the 1970s, the concept of "sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems." Scientists in many fields have highlighted The Limits to Growth, and economists have presented alternatives, for example a 'steady state economy'; to address concerns over the impacts of expanding human development on the planet.
The term “sustainability standards” refers to a voluntary, usually third party-assessed, norms and standards relating to environmental, social, ethical and food safety issues, adopted by companies to demonstrate the performance of their organizations or products in specific areas. There are perhaps up to 500 such standards and the pace of introduction has increased in the last decade. The trend started in the late 1980s and 90s with the introduction of Ecolabels and standards for Organic food and other products. In recent years, numerous standards have been established and adopted in the food industry in particular. Most of them refer to the triple bottom line of environmental quality, social equity, and economic prosperity. The basic premise of sustainability standards is twofold. Firstly, they emerged in areas where national and global legislation was weak but where the consumer and NGO movements around the globe demanded action. For example, campaigns by Global Exchange and other NGOs against the purchase of goods from “sweatshop” factories by the likes of Nike, Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and other leading brands led to the emergence of social welfare standards like the SA8000 and others. Secondly, leading brands selling to both consumers and to the B2B supply chain may wish to demonstrate the environmental or organic merits of their products, which has led to the emergence of hundreds of ecolabels, organic and other standards. A leading example of a consumer standard is the Fairtrade movement, administered by FLO International and exhibiting huge sales growth around the world for ethically sourced produce. An example of a B2B standard which has grown tremendously in the last few years is the Forest Stewardship Council’s standard (FSC) for forest products made from sustainably harvested trees. However, the line between consumer and B2B sustainability standards is becoming blurred, with leading trade buyers increasingly demanding Fairtrade certification, for example, and consumers increasingly recognizing the FSC mark.
Sustainable development is a roadmap, the action plan, for achieving sustainability in any activity that uses resources and where immediate and intergenerational replication is demanded. As such, sustainable development is the organizing principle for sustaining finite resources necessary to provide for the needs of future generations of life on the planet. It is a process that envisions a desirable future state for human societies in which living conditions and resource-use continue to meet human needs without undermining the "integrity, stability, and beauty" of natural biotic systems.

The concept of "sustainable development" has its roots in forest management as early as the 12th to 16th centuries. However, over the last five decades the concept has significantly broadened. The first use of the term sustainable in the contemporary sense was by the Club of Rome in 1972 in its classic report on the "Limits to Growth", written by a group of scientists led by Dennis and Donella Meadows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Describing the desirable "state of global equilibrium", the authors used the word "sustainable": "We are searching for a model output that represents a world system that is: (1) sustainable without sudden and uncontrolled collapse and (2) capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of all of its people."
  • In 1980, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature published a world conservation strategy that included one of the first references to sustainable development as a global priority.
  • In 1982, the United Nations World Charter for Nature raised five principles of conservation by which human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged.
  • In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development released the report Our Common Future, now commonly named the 'Brundtland Report' after the commission's chairperson, the then Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland. The report included what is now one of the most widely recognised definitions: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."  The Brundtland Report goes on to say that sustainable development also contains within it two key concepts:
1.   The concept of "needs," in particular, the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
2.   The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development published in 1992 the Earth Charter, which outlines the building of a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The action plan Agenda 21 for sustainable development identified information, integration, and participation as key building blocks to help countries achieve development that recognizes these interdependent pillars. It emphasises that in sustainable development everyone is a user and provider of information. It stresses the need to change from old sector-centered ways of doing business to new approaches that involve cross-sectoral co-ordination and the integration of environmental and social concerns into all development processes. Furthermore, Agenda 21 emphasises that broad public participation in decision making is a fundamental prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development integrated sustainable development into the UN System. Indigenous peoples have argued, through various international forums such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Convention on Biological Diversity, that there are four pillars of sustainable development, the fourth being cultural. The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity from 2001 states: "... cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”; it becomes “one of the roots of development understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence".
The proposed changes were supported by a study in 2013, which concluded that sustainability reporting should be reframed through the lens of four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.

The philosophical and analytic framework of sustainability draws on and connects with many different disciplines and fields; in recent years an area that has come to be called sustainability science has emerged.
The identified principles and treaties on sustainable development, including economic development, social development and environmental protection. The Circles of Sustainability approach distinguishes the four domains of economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability. This in accord which specifies culture as the fourth domain of sustainable development.
Scale and context idea for sustainability
Sustainability is studied and managed over many scales (levels or frames of reference) of time and space and in many contexts of environmental, social and economic organization. The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity (sustainability) of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighborhoods, home gardens, individual lives, individual goods and services, occupations, lifestyles, behaviour patterns and so on. In short, it can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it. As Daniel Botkin, author and environmentalist, has stated: "We see a landscape that is always in flux, changing over many scales of time and space."
As such, a long-running impediment to the design and implementation of practical measures to reach global sustainability has been the size of planet Earth and the complex processes and systems involved. To shed light on the big picture, explorer and sustainability campaigner Jason Lewis has drawn parallels to other, more tangible closed systems. For example, he likens human existence on Earth - isolated as the planet is in space, whereby people cannot be evacuated to relieve population pressure and resources cannot be imported to prevent accelerated depletion of resources - to life at sea on a small boat isolated by water. In both cases, he argues, exercising the precautionary principle is a key factor in survival.

Consumption idea for sustainability
A major driver of human impact on Earth systems is the destruction of biophysical resources, and especially, the Earth's ecosystems. The environmental impact of a community or of humankind as a whole depends both on population and impact per person, which in turn depends in complex ways on what resources are being used, whether or not those resources are renewable, and the scale of the human activity relative to the carrying capacity of the ecosystems involved. Careful resource management can be applied at many scales, from economic sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and industry, to work organizations, the consumption patterns of households and individuals and to the resource demands of individual goods and services.
One of the initial attempts to express human impact mathematically was developed in the 1970s and is called the I PAT formula. This formulation attempts to explain human consumption in terms of three components: population numbers, levels of consumption (which it terms "affluence", although the usage is different), and impact per unit of resource use (which is termed "technology", because this impact depends on the technology used). The equation is expressed:

I = P × A × T
Where: I = Environmental impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology.

Philosophical idea for sustainability
The field reflects a desire to give the generalities and broad-based approach of “sustainability” a stronger analytic and scientific underpinning as it:
... brings together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine — it can be usefully thought of as "neither ‘‘basic’’ nor ‘‘applied’’ research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs; it serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two."
Sustainability science, like sustainability itself, derives some impetus from the concepts of sustainable development and environmental science. Sustainability science provides a critical framework for sustainability  while sustainability measurement provides the evidence-based quantitative data needed to guide sustainability governance.

27 Principles of Sustainability

Principle 1. The role of man

Human beings are at the centre of concern for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Principle 2. State sovereignty
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
Principle 3. The Right to development
The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
Principle 4. Environmental Protection in the Development Process
In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process chain and cannot be considered in isolation from it.
Principle 5. Eradication of Poverty
All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.
Principle 6. Priority for the Least Developed
The special situation and needs of developing countries, particularly the least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable, shall be given special priority. International actions in the field of environment and development should also address the interests and needs of all countries.
Principle 7. State Cooperation to Protect Ecosystem
States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.
Principle 8. Reduction of Unsustainable Patterns of Production and Consumption
To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
Principle 9. Capacity Building for Sustainable Development
States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies.
Principle 10. Public participation
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
Principle 11. National Environmental Legislation
States shall enact effective environmental legislation. Environmental standards, management objectives and priorities should reflect the environmental and developmental context to which they apply. Standards applied by some countries may be inappropriate and of unwarranted economic and social cost to other countries, in particular developing countries.
Principle 12. Supportive and Open International Economic System
States should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries, to better address the problems of environmental degradation. Trade policy measures for environmental purposes should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. Unilateral actions to deal with environmental challenges outside the jurisdiction of the importing country should be avoided. Environmental measures addressing transboundary or global environmental problems should, as far as possible, be based on an international consensus.
Principle 13. Compensation for Victims of Pollution and other Environmental Damage
States shall develop national law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. States shall also cooperate in an expeditious and more determined manner to develop further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse effects of environmental damage caused by activities within their jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction.
Principle 14. State Cooperation to Prevent environmental dumping
States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health.
Principle 15. Precautionary principle
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Principle 16. Internalization of Environmental Costs
National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.
Principle 17. Environmental Impact Assessments
Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.
Principle 18. Notification of Natural Disaster
States shall immediately notify other States of any natural disasters or other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the environment of those States. Every effort shall be made by the international community to help States so afflicted.
Principle 19. Prior and Timely Notification
States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affected States on activities that may have a significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult with those States at an early stage and in good faith.
Principle 20. Women have a Vital Role
Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.
Principle 21. Youth Mobilization
The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.
Principle 22. Indigenous Peoples have a Vital Role
Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.
Principle 23. People under Oppression
The environment and natural resources of people under oppression, domination and occupation shall be protected.
Principle 24. Warfare
Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.
Principle 25. Peace, Development and Environmental Protection
Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.
Principle 26. Resolution of Environmental Disputes
States shall resolve all their environmental disputes peacefully and by appropriate means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
Principle 27. Cooperation between State and People
States and people shall cooperate in good faith and in a spirit of partnership in the fulfilment of the principles embodied in this Declaration and in the further development of international law in the field of sustainable development.

Different sustainability ways

Numerous sustainability standards have been developed in recent years to address issues of environmental quality, social equity, and economic prosperity of global production and trade practices. Despite similarities in major goals and certification procedures, there are some significant differences in terms of their historical development, target groups of adopters, geographical diffusion, and emphasis on environmental, social or economic issues.


The Fairtrade label was developed in the late 1980s by a Dutch development agency in collaboration with Mexican farmers. The initiative performs development work and promotes its political vision of an alternative economy, seeing its main objective in empowering small producers and providing these with access to and improving their position on global markets. The most distinguishing feature of the Fairtrade label is the guarantee of a minimum price and a social premium that goes to the cooperative and not to the producers directly. Recently, Fairtrade also adopted environmental objectives as part of their certification system.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance was created in the late 1980s from a social movement and is committed to conserving rainforests and their biodiversity. One key element of the standard is the compulsory elaboration and implementation of a detailed plan for the development of a sustainable farm management system so as to assist wildlife conservation. Another objective is to improve workers’ welfare by establishing and securing sustainable livelihoods. Producer prices may carry a premium. Yet instead of guaranteeing a fixed floor price, the standard seeks to improve the economic situation of producers through higher yields and enhanced cost efficiency.

Utz Certified

Utz Certified (formerly Utz Kapeh) was co-founded by the Dutch coffee roaster Ahold Coffee Company in 1997. It aims to create an open and transparent marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible agricultural products. Instruments include the UTZ Traceability System and the UTZ Code of Conduct. The traceability system makes certified products traceable from producer to final buyer and has stringent chains of custody requirements. The UTZ Code of Conduct emphasizes both environmental practices (e.g. biodiversity conservation, waste handling and water use) and social benefits (e.g. access to medical care, access to sanitary facilities at work).


The Organic standard was developed in the 1970s and is based on IFOAM Basic Standards. IFOAM stands for International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and is the leading global umbrella organization for the organic farming movement. The IFOAM Basic Standards provide a framework of minimum requirements, including the omission of agrochemicals such as pesticides and chemical-synthetic fertilizers. The use of animal feeds is also strictly regulated. Genetic engineering and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are forbidden.


The trustea code is designed to evaluate the social, economic, agronomic and environmental performance of Indian tea estates, smallholders and Bought Leaf Factories (BLFs).
It is expected that the compliance with the code not only improves competitiveness of the tea farms but also facilitates the tea farms in achieving compliance with national regulations and international sustainability standards in a step-wise approach. The applicable control points under eleven chapters are required to be adhered to within a four year period, resulting in full compliance in a step wise approach by end of year 4. The India tea code allows producers to show that they operate responsibly – producing quality tea according to strict social and environmental standards. The verification under the code provides manufacturers with the assurance of responsible production and provides opportunities to credibly demonstrate this to their customers.

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