Defining sustainability

The word 'sustainability' is used - and arguably misused - in a variety of ways. The Museums Association takes a broad view of sustainability. Here are some of the more useful definitions:

The classic 'Brundtland' definition:
'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987.

For the state of Oregon:

'Sustainability means using, developing and protecting resources at a rate and in a manner that enables people to meet their current needs and also provides that future generations can meet their own needs. 'Sustainability requires simultaneously meeting environmental, economic and community needs.' State of Oregon, Development of a State Strategy Promoting Sustainability in Internal State Government Operations' May 2000

To Museums Australia, sustainability:
'has come to mean living on the earth's income rather than eroding its capital... it also means passing on to future generations an equal or preferably enhanced stock of economic, natural, social and human capital.' Museums Australia, Museums and Sustainability, 2003

For the cultural economist David Throsby:

'Sustainable development marries the ideas of sustainable economic development, meaning development that will not slow down or wither away… and ecological sustainability, meaning the preservation and enhancement of a range of environmental values. '[It also includes] the wider concept of "human development"… measured by a variety of indicators of quality of life and standards of living that go well beyond measuring simply material progress.' David Throsby, Cultural Sustainability, in Handbook of Cultural Economics, ed Ruth Towse, p183

According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance:

'A sustainable community can persist over generations, enjoying a healthy environment, prosperous economy and vibrant civic life. It does not undermine its social or physical systems of support.' Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

From the point of view of an individual museum, according to Adrian Babbidge sustainability is:
'The long-term health and vitality of an institution, reflecting its connections with various elements of society.' Adrian Babbidge, presentation on Association of Independent Museums Sustainability Grants

Museum consultant Gail Lord says sustainability is:
'The ability of a system to function into the future without being forced into decline through the overloading of the key resources on which it depends.' Gail Lord, Museums and Sustainability: Economy, Culture and Community

And the UK government summarises its position as follows:
'The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations… '...that goal will be pursued in an integrated way through a sustainable, innovative and productive economy that delivers high levels of employment; and a just society that promotes social inclusion, sustainable communities and personal wellbeing. This will be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment, and use resources and energy as efficiently as possible.' Securing the Future UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy, 2005, p16