what is the definition of sustainability?

“Sustainability” as a word itself holds many definitions and meanings depending on the user. In the essay “Sustainability” written by Maria Garcia Maldonado, Rosario Garcia Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, the authors discuss how the word “sustainability” can be interpreted in separate ways. 

Sustainability Energy Tree – Pixabay

One way the word can be interpreted is through environmental change. In the perspective of the World Health Organization, sustainability is more associated with “sustainable development goals”, this includes global influences such as climate change and its impact on our health. Therefore, sustainability – in this case – is defined as the prevention of world depletion.

In another perspective, the authors analyzed “sustainability” in the eyes of a working individual from Guatemala. In spanish, sustainability translated to sostenible or sustentable. In this case, this translated word now meant “a capacity to be maintained overtime”. Therefore in this case, the word “sustainability” did not hold many motives to a native speaker. In this language, the word lacked an additional “progress to an oriented future” aspect. The authors then went on to try to use native words to produce a common understanding of the subject, yet still the explanations were too broad. But what they did find in common, was the idea that there was always worry of what the future holds.

With such a broad shift in translation, the authors discovered that “amid the stratified reproductions of global development, the reproductions of our translations are stratified too”. It is important to note that the aim of the translation is not to define a “one term fits all” policy but rather, to provide a neutral understanding so change can be made. Many “not-so-global” languages hold definitions to words that are not coherently translated back to english. So if we are looking for communal sustainability then we must start with communal understanding. Once find a common ground on our sustainable perspectives, then we can start making progress.

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