Contents of this page

Core-Sustainability Concepts

  • Definition
  • The 4 root causes of unsustainability
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Current state of the Earth

  • A few facts

Resources & Links

  • Useful websites
  • A few historically significant events
  • More on sustainability concepts

Core-Sustainability Concepts

  – Definition:

The name sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sub, under). Sustain can mean “maintain”, “support”, or “endure”. Since the 1980s, sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth; and in 1987, the UN Environment Commission, chaired by G.H. Brundtland, defined sustainable development as: “[…] development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It is now known as ‘the Brundtland definition’ of sustainable development and remains the global standard.

Sustainability is also associated with the 3 dimensions of economy, society and environment, also known in corporate organizations as the triple bottom-line, or 3P for profit (economy), people (society) and planet (environment), and based on which they measure their financial, social and environmental performance.

It is interesting to note the dependent relationship of the economy on the society, which itself is constrained by the limits of natural systems.

Sustainability - Triple Bottom Line
Source: Permaculture Journeys design in Inkscape from Google Images

  – The 4 root causes of unsustainability:

As established by the non-profit, non-governmental and internationally recognised organisation ‘The Natural Step’, there are 4 root causes to unsustainability:


  1. Extraction of large flows of materials from the earth’s crust (oil, gas, coal, heavy metals…)
    –> which leads to depletion of energetic and material resources

  2. Accumulation of substances created by our society (chemical compounds, CO2…)
    –> which leads to air, food, soil, water pollution and global warming

  3. Physical inhibition of Nature’s ability to run cycles
    –> which leads to deforestation, ecosystem decline, depletion of oceans and farm lands, water scarcity and droughts, etc.

  4. Creation of barriers to people meeting their basic needs worldwide (food, water, healthcare…)
    –> which leads to inequality, population growth, hunger and poverty

Unsustainability - Extraction of natural resources
Unsustainability - Accumulation of substances
Unsustainability - Physical inhibition of natural cycles
Unsustainability - Social barriers to basic needs

  – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

The 2015 United Nations (UN) summit presented the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, which comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These were then adopted by world leaders and came into force on 1 January 2016.
“The SDGs are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.
During these fifteen years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries shall mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind”.

United Nations Sustainability Development Goals
How Permaculture closely relates to sustainability:

Permaculture remarkably supports all of these 17 SDGs and directly contribute to 13 of them:

  • #1: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”
  • #2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”
  • #3: “Ensure heathy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”
  • #6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”
  • #7: “Ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”
  • #9: “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”
  • #10: “Reduce inequality within and among countries”
  • #11:”Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”
  • #12: “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”
  • #13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”
  • #14: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”
  • #15: “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”
  • #16: ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”

Find-out more about the SDGs and progress here:

Current state of the Earth

Sustainability curves - Resource availability vs. demand
A few facts about water
A few facts about ecosystems
A few facts about seas and oceans
A few facts about population

  – A few facts:

  • 700M people suffer from water scarcity
  • By 2025, 1.8 Billion people will be living in absolute water scarcity regions, and
  • 2/3 of the world’s population will be under stress conditions
  • We lost 50% of the world’s forests
  • We lost 75% of genetic diversity from agricultural crops
  • 10-50% of well-known groups are threatened with extinction
  • The current extinction rate is 1,000 x higher than pre-industrial levels
  • 75% of fisheries are fully or overexploited
  • 90% of the big fish has been killed
  • 17% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources
  • The population is expected to reach 9 Billion by 2050
World Bank Population Prediction Curves
Source: (World population prospects, the 1996 revision)

  – Our individual power and responsibility:

Although the vast majority of world leaders recognise the urgent need for action, they often face obstacles and pressure from big corporations and lobby whose financial interests remain in conducting “business as usual”. Most organisations can vastly improve their bottom-line, including financial performance, by embedding sustainability into their strategy and operations. However the most influential organisations conduct activities that are ecologically disastrous by nature. Think for instance oil, gas and mining industry, intensive animal agriculture / factory farms, as well as chemical industry including agrochemical products such as pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), etc.

The true economic power resides in people and their consumption habits. Companies follow the money and change if the market demand changes. Hence, it is vital that each and everyone one of us take responsibility for our future through living more sustainably and making better choices everyday.

Click here to learn about Permaculture Journeys’ sustainability commitment and the actions we take to conduct our business responsibly.

The resources and links below are a good starting point if you wish to educate yourself further about global environmental issues and what we can do about it; and you can also keep an eye out for new articles on our blog where we will periodically address sustainability topics.

Resources & Links

  – Useful websites:

  – A few historically significant events:

  – More on sustainability concepts: