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Oklahoma State University

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

three pillars of sustainability venn diagramAt OSU, we consider sustainability as good stewardship: good stewardship of our environment; good stewardship of our communities; and, good stewardship of our financial resources.

When most people think about sustainability, they think of the environment. That is a very important aspect of sustainability, but it is an incomplete version of it! Having a healthy, thriving planet that can be sustained for a long time requires caring for needs of all people and creatures because everything on earth is connected. Various pictures of sustainability can be summed up in Venn diagrams.


Economic Sustainability

“Economic sustainability refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community.” - sustainability diagram


How to be involved in economic sustainability:

  • Buy locally-sourced goods
  • Donate money to non-profits that support sustainable practices
  • Shop second-hand or thrift as much as possible
  • Take part in the economy (especially local), without compromising your quality of life or that of others
  • Purchase from companies that pay workers fair wages            (e.g. Fair Trade)
  • Reuse, recycle, and compost materials to help create a circular economy


Social Sustainability

“Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes; systems; structures; and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.” – WACOSS, Western Australia Council of Social Services

What practical aspects involve social sustainability?

  • Wellness
  • Diversity
  • Volunteering
  • Human rights
  • Fair labor practices
  • Environmental justice
  • Wellness
  • Equity and equality
  • Safety
  • Community engagement


Environmental Sustainability

"Environmental “sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth’s two most complex systems—human culture and the living world.” – Paul Hawken,

What you can do:

  • Volunteer for local community clean ups
  • Use non-toxic chemicals in home and office
  • Conserve water
  • Reduce the generation of waste by not creating it, and reuse, recycle and compost materials
  • Opt for zero-emissions transportation such as walking or biking and take advantage of public transportation when possible
  • Purchase sustainable seafood
  • Opt for plant-based foods over animal products
  • Purchase Energy Star equipment for heating, cooling, water heaters, appliances and light fixtures
  • Employ environmentally friendly building techniques
  • Use your voice! Call your city and state representatives, and advocate for laws that protect nature’s ecosystems


United Nations Sustainable Development GoalsUN SDGs

As you can see, the three aspects of sustainability are intertwined. The UN has compiled a comprehensive list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that set expectations for countries to move toward creating a more sustainable world.