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

  – 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

Unsustainability - Extraction of natural resources

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

Unsustainability - Accumulation of substances

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.

Unsustainability - Physical inhibition of natural cycles

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

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 contributes to 13 of them:

  • #1: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”: Permaculture eradicates poverty by creating access to food, water, energy, shelter and designing self-sufficient communites.
  • #2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”: The first focus of permaculture is on developing regenerative farming systems that produce a diversity of healthy crops.
  • #3: “Ensure heathy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”: Nature is a healer and Permaculture provides access to healthy lifestyles with clean food, clean air, clean water and medicinal plants.
  • #6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”: Permaculture systems harvest, slow and store rainwater and create closed-loop systems where used water can be directed to and filtered through greywater treatement systems (such as reed beds) and reused for plants and productive systems to continue its cycle trough the evaporation and cloud formation processes.
  • #7: “Ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”: Permaculture optimises the use of passive energies such as solar and gravity and embraces the cleaner renewable energy systems that provide alternatives to fossi fuel.
  • #9: “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”: Permaculture promotes the use of earthship, natural building and other techniques that are resilient, fire-proof, natural, non-toxic and adapted to a given climate. It also embraces innovative techniques such as hempcrete and mycotecture.
  • #10: “Reduce inequality within and among countries”: Permaculture can be applied anywhere from desertic to sub-arctic areas to empower all communities to meet their own needs and become more self-reliant, building on the advantages that each bioregion can bring to setup their own adaptative systems.
  • #11:”Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”: The very definition of Permaculture is to design sustainable communities based on observing and mimicking the attributes of diversity, stability and resilience of the natural ecosystems.
  • #12: “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”: One of the third ethics of Permaculture is “fair share”, which means setting a limit to consumption and sharing the surplus. It is about designing productive systems that are also regenerative.
  • #13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”: Practicing permaculture allows people to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, to divert from fossil energies and to regenerate degraded ecosystems. It directly tackles many leading causes of global warming by reducing over-consumption, food miles, pollution and other destructive practices.
  • #14: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”: Permaculture takes care of life below water by ensuring clean water cycles, no-waste systems and onsite fish habitat such as in ponds and riparian areas. 
  • #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”: Permaculture is a regenerative design science that focuses on the restoration and/or establishment of perennial systems such as food forests and native habitat for plants and wildlife of a given bioregion.
  • #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”: Permaculture integrates rather than segregates, it is applied with the whole in mind to design systems that benefit all life form, reducing circumstances prone to conflicts. In recent years, it has grown into a global movement that collaborates with local and regional governments, education partners and grassroot organisations to build a better world for all.

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:

  • 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
A few facts about ecosystems
  • 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
A few facts about seas and oceans
  • 75% of fisheries are fully or overexploited
  • 90% of the big fish has been killed
A few facts about population
  • 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: