What is Sustainability ? its nature, dimensions, importance & Challenges

Sustainability is a social goal for people to co-exist on Earth over a long time.

  • definitions disputed (literature, context, and time.)
  • Experts often describe sustainability as having three dimensions (or pillars):
  1. Environmental,
  2. Economic,
  3. Social
  1. Environmental sustainability is concerned with protecting the environment and conserving natural resources. This includes things like reducing pollution, conserving water, and protecting biodiversity.
  2. Economic sustainability is concerned with creating a prosperous economy that can meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. This includes things like using renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and investing in education and infrastructure.
  3. Social sustainability is concerned with creating a just and equitable society that provides opportunities for all people. This includes things like promoting human rights, ensuring access to education and healthcare, and resolving conflicts peacefully.
  • In everyday use, sustainability often focuses on countering major environmental problems, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, land degradation, and air and water pollution.
  • The idea of sustainability can guide decisions at the global, national, and individual levels (e.g. sustainable living).
  • A related concept is sustainable development, and the terms are often used to mean the same thing.
  • UNESCO distinguishes the two
  • Sustainability is often thought of as a long-term goal (i.e. a more sustainable world), while sustainable development refers to the many processes and pathways to achieve it.

Sustainable development

  • In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development released the report Our Common Future, commonly called the Brundtland Report.

Definition of Sustainable Development

  • Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (WCED, 1987)
  • It contains two key concepts within it:

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.

Core Elements of Sustainable Development

  • Three core elements of sustainable development are economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. It is crucial to harmonize them.
  • Sustainable economic growth, achieving sustainable livelihood, living in harmony with nature and appropriate technology are important for sustainable development.


Dimensions of Sustainability 

Sustainability is often examined through various dimensions, which are interconnected aspects that collectively contribute to long-term ecological, social, and economic well-being.

1. Environmental Dimension of Sustainability :

The environmental dimension of sustainability focuses on preserving ecosystems, natural resources, and biodiversity. It involves minimizing environmental degradation and reducing the carbon footprint to mitigate climate change.

For instance, countries setting ambitious goals for renewable energy adoption, such as achieving net-zero emissions, as seen in global climate agreements like the Paris Agreement, signify efforts to combat environmental challenges.

Additionally, initiatives to protect biodiversity hotspots, like preserving the Amazon rainforest or restoring degraded ecosystems such as mangroves, demonstrate commitments toward environmental sustainability.

2. Economic Dimension of Sustainability :

In the economic dimension, sustainability involves ensuring economic growth that doesn’t compromise future generations’ ability to meet their needs. It encompasses responsible consumption, resource efficiency, and long-term economic stability.

For example, businesses embracing circular economy practices to minimize waste or adopting sustainable business models prioritize long-term viability over short-term profits.

Notably, companies integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria into their strategies showcase how economic sustainability can align with responsible practices, often leading to better financial performance.

3. Social Dimension of Sustainability :

Sustainability’s social dimension emphasizes equity, inclusivity, and societal well-being. It involves ensuring fair and just societies where everyone has access to education, healthcare, and opportunities.

For example, initiatives that promote fair labor practices, address income inequality, or support marginalized communities contribute to social sustainability.

News often covers community-driven programs focusing on poverty reduction, like microfinance aiding small-scale entrepreneurs, showcasing efforts toward social equity and inclusion.

4. Psychological Dimension of Sustainability :

Well-being is a key sustainable development goal and a fundamental requirement for good health, which is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”

Sustainability not only in terms of the ecological and socio-economic environment (Brundtland Report, 1987) but also in terms of improving the quality of life of every human being.

The psychological dimensions of sustainability is a basic idea is that it is human psychology (i.e., environmentally destructive behaviors and propensities) the main cause of the current ecological crisis; but human behavior is also a paramount solution.

Thus, any interventional strategy to be successful has to consider the psychological determinants, the remedial behaviors, and also the positive consequences linked to more sustainable behaviors

Psychologically, sustainability is viewed not only in terms of the ecological and social environment but also in terms of promoting the well-being of all people (Di Fabio, 2016a).

Since the environmental dilemma emerged as a consequence of

  1. human drives (i.e., motivations for exploiting and depredating the environment), and
  2. capacities (human intelligence and potential for exploiting natural resources),

While the traditional definition of sustainability focuses on avoiding (exploitation, depletion, and irreversible alteration), the new definition focuses on promoting (enrichment, growth, and flexible change) (Di Fabio, 2016a).

Two domains;

1.To emphasize the centrality of human attitudinal and behavioral change in achieving a livable future; and

2.To highlight some long-standing difficulties and promising developments at the union of psychological self-awareness, ecological knowledge and sustainability principles.

An attitude is conceived as a hypothetical construct, the form of which is a coalesced mental representation, comprised of multiple components.

1, the cognitive component — involves the person’s factual knowledge, beliefs and thoughts about the attitude object. your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and ideas about the attitudinal object

  1. the affective component, involves the evaluative feelings, judgments and emotional responses with respect to the object. fear, humour, and anger empathy, hate, like, dislike, pleasure, jealousy, disgust, indignation, etc. Feelings can vary in intensity.

behavioral component, -the behavioral intention(s) and/or overt actions associated with an attitude object.  predisposition to act in a certain manner the way the attitude.

5. Cultural Dimension of Sustainability :

The cultural dimension recognizes the importance of cultural heritage, diversity, and traditional knowledge in sustainable development.

Preserving indigenous knowledge systems and practices that promote sustainable land management or biodiversity conservation contributes to this dimension.

News highlights efforts to protect cultural heritage sites and traditions while integrating sustainable practices. Projects supporting indigenous communities in maintaining their cultural identity while promoting sustainable practices exemplify the cultural dimension of sustainability.

These dimensions represent the interconnected facets of sustainability, each crucial for achieving holistic and long-term sustainable development. News, reports, and global initiatives continuously underscore actions and advancements within these dimensions, showcasing a growing commitment toward balancing environmental preservation, social justice, economic viability, and cultural heritage in the pursuit of a sustainable future.

Importance of Sustainability

Sustainability is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • Protecting the environment:by reducing pollution, conserving natural resources, and mitigating climate change.
  • Improving public health: by reducing exposure to pollutants, improving access to clean air and water, and promoting healthy lifestyles.
  • Creating jobs and economic growth:Sustainability can create jobs and economic growth in sectors such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable agriculture.
  • Reducing poverty and inequality: to reduce poverty and inequality by ensuring that everyone has access to basic resources and opportunities.
  • Promoting social justice: by ensuring that the costs and benefits of development are shared equitably.
  • Sustainability is important for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future.

Here are some specific examples of the benefits of sustainability:

  • Reduced air pollution: improve respiratory health and reduce the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and other chronic diseases.
  • Clean water: everyone has access to clean water- essential for good health and sanitation.
  • Renewable energy: Sustainability can promote the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.
  • Sustainable agriculture: to protect soil and water quality, reduce pesticide use, and increase biodiversity.
  • Green jobs: create jobs in sectors such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable agriculture.
  • Sustainability is essential for creating a healthy and prosperous future for all. We must all work together to make sustainable choices in our daily lives and to support policies that promote sustainability.

Challenges to sustainability

There are many challenges to sustainability, including:

  1. Climate change:

It is caused by human activities that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which trap heat and warm the planet.

In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report – widely seen to be the most authoritative and up-to-date source on the topic — issued the most severe warning yet on climate change: “Recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and unprecedented in thousands of years,”

Climate change is already having a number of negative impacts, such as more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers. These impacts are expected to worsen in the future if we do not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. These events can damage homes and infrastructure, displace people, and disrupt food production.

For example, in 2022, Hurricane Ian caused an estimated $119 billion in damage in the United States, and the floods in Pakistan displaced over 33 million people.

The impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, and higher temperatures are already unavoidable even if the world succeeds in reaching the 2050 zero-carbon emissions targets set at Glasgow in 2021 which would limit warming to an annual increase of 1.5 degrees centigrade above 1850-1900 levels. But the world is not on track to meet these targets.

2. Biodiversity loss:

Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. It is essential for human well-being, providing us with food, clean air and water, and medicine.

However, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate due to human activities such as habitat destruction, pollution, and overexploitation. This decline in biodiversity is a major threat to sustainability.

According to the World Health Organization, Biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem services are no longer adequate to meet social needs. Indirectly, changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, income, local migration and, on occasion, may even cause or exacerbate political conflict.

For example, the Amazon rainforest is home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life, but it is being destroyed at a rate of 1.6 acres per second.

3. Resource depletion:

We are depleting the Earth’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. This includes fossil fuels, minerals, and water.

Resource depletion can lead to environmental problems such as pollution and climate change, as well as economic and social problems such as poverty and conflict.

For example, the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, and this will put a huge strain on our resources.

4 Pollution:

Pollution is the contamination of the environment with harmful substances. It can come from a variety of sources, including factories, cars, and agriculture.

Pollution can have a number of negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Some 83% of tap water samples collected from over a dozen countries on five continents tested positive for microplastic, according to a study commissioned by data journalism outlet Orb, TIME magazine reported in 2017.

For example, in India, an estimated 600 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

5.  Poverty and inequality:

Poverty and inequality are major obstacles to sustainability.

Poor people are often more vulnerable to the negative impacts of environmental problems, such as climate change and pollution. They are also less likely to have the resources to invest in sustainable practices.

For example, in Africa, an estimated 667 million people live on less than $1.90 per day.

6. Deforestation

The world’s forests are disappearing at a rate of about 10 million hectares per year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Agency – an area about the size of Portugal.

Forests are vital for absorbing the greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet.

7 Lack of awareness and understanding:

8 Cost: Sustainable practices can sometimes be more expensive than traditional practices. This can make it difficult for individuals and businesses to adopt sustainable practices.

9 Convenience: Sustainable practices are not always as convenient as traditional practices. This can make it difficult for people to stick with sustainable choices.

10 Lack of government support: Governments often do not provide enough support for sustainable practices. This can make it difficult for individuals and businesses to adopt sustainable practices.


World Health Organization (WHO), 2022: Air Pollution. Fact Sheet.

World Resources Institute, 2022: Creating a Nature-Positive World. World Resources Report 2022-23.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2021: Global Environment Outlook 6. GEO-6: Healthy Planet, Healthy People.)

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2022: Human Development Report 2021-2022. Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping Our Future in a Transforming World.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *