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Definitions of Sustainability for Children...and from Children

There are various definitions and debates to the definition of sustainability among leaders in the field. However in general, they all have to do with:


  • The concept of living within our limits
  • Understanding the interconnections among economies, society, and the environment
  • Providing equitable distribution of resources and opportunities

The ever expanding definition of sustainability from Wikipedia starts off with:

Sustainability is a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. The term, in its environmental usage, refers to the potential longevity of vital human ecological support systems, such as the planet's climatic system, systems of agriculture, industry, forestry, and fisheries, and human communities in general and the various systems on which they depend in balance with the impacts of our unsustainable or sustainable design.

A more simple (yet comprehensive) definition that is commonly quoted is:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. —Brundtland (1987)

Definitions of Sustainability Provided by Children

My favourite published definition of sustainability so far is Paul Hawkin’s definition from the Ecology of Commerce. I like this definition because of his inclusion of economic golden rule that can be explained easily to children.

"Sustainability is an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. It can also be expressed in the simple terms of an economic golden rule for the restorative economy: leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life of the environment, make amends if you do."

However, the best and most meaningful definitions have been those I have heard from children. Here are some definitions children have shared when asked to describe what sustainability means to them:

Something that lasts for a long time- maybe forever

Like a circle- it goes around and all is re-used

Taking care of the planet and its creatures

Something that is good for everyone

Loving and caring for our planet and others

Sharing what we have with others and not taking more than our share

Thinking about what you need rather than taking what you want

Making the world a better place for the future

Living together peacefully

Being nice to all of your neighbours including the trees

Making rules we can all follow

Taking care of the air, water, land and those who live there

One thing leads to another, then another. Let’s make the chain good.

Sustainability is not just cleaning up your own room – it’s about keeping tidy an even bigger room that belongs to everyone!


Further Resources to Define Sustainability