Recently I watched Video’s of several Nature Organizations, I counted the expression “Sustainable” in one 12 minute presentation, 32 times (Video not displayed). This unleashed my curiosity and my search brought the following to light. 

The WIKIPEDIA Definition:
A diagram indicating the relationship between the three pillars of sustainability suggesting that both economy and society are constrained by environmental limits.

Scheme of sustainable development: ( The average English speaker would speak “Sustain”or “Sustainable=to keep going!)
At the confluence of three constituent parts.The word sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Dictionaries provide more than ten meanings for sustain, the main ones being to “maintain”, “support”, or “endure”.
However, since the 1980s sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth and this has resulted in the most widely quoted definition of sustainability and sustainable development, that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

At the 2005 World Summit it was noted that this requires the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands – the “three pillars” of sustainability. This view has been expressed as an illustration using three overlapping ellipses indicating that the three pillars of sustainability are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.


The UN definition is not universally accepted and has undergone various interpretations. What sustainability is, what its goals should be, and how these goals are to be achieved are all open to interpretation. For many environmentalists the idea of sustainable development is an oxymoron as development seems to entail environmental degradation.
Ecological economist Herman Daly has asked, “what use is a sawmill without a forest?” From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere, and a gain in one sector is a loss from another.

This can be illustrated as three concentric circles.


A universally accepted definition of sustainability remains elusive because it is expected to achieve many things. On the one hand it needs to be factual and scientific, a clear statement of a specific “destination”. The simple definition “sustainability is improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems”, though vague, conveys the idea of sustainability having quantifiable limits.

But sustainability is also a call to action, a task in progress or “journey” and therefore a political process, so some definitions set out common goals and values. The Earth Charter speaks of “a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.”

To add complication the word sustainability is applied not only to human sustainability on Earth, but to many situations and contexts over many scales of space and time, from small local ones to the global balance of production and consumption. It can also refer to a future intention: “sustainable agriculture” is not necessarily a current situation but a goal for the future, a prediction. For all these reasons sustainability is perceived, at one extreme, as nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with little meaning or substance but, at the other, as an important but unfocused concept like “liberty” or “justice”. It has also been described as a “dialogue of values that defies consensual definition”.

Some researchers and institutions have pointed out that these three dimensions are not enough to reflect the complexity of contemporary society and suggest that culture could be included in this development model.


The point is, how can any none English Speaker come up with the same understanding, to match a Unified Global result?

It is my observation that all of the Organizations ought to simplify their message and receive better uniformity, Globally!
When listing the Global Eco Lodges, it has become a stunning reality that many so called Eco Lodges are renamed, Boutique Hotels or even Chain Hotels, “ECONO Lodge ” is found on every Eco Lodge header in Google! Does Google understand Sustainability?
Some Companies are selling certification of a Lodge in the absence of a Domestic Applicable Standard, while others buy Management, Performance Contracts and use the Contract to claim International approval’s.

I have come across so called Eco Lodges with unending referrals to “Sustainability’, Even the Food was advertised as Sustainable.

Finally, the use of Sustainability in an International Environment, when the word has no exact meaning in the English/American language, is an invitation to its misapplication and possible unintended Fraud.

What say you?


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Comment by Irene Lane on February 22, 2012 at 8:37am

Excellent points Uwe!  "Sustainable", "eco", "responsible" - it can be very confusing especially when certification labels enter the tourism equation.  However, ecotourism is rather specific and quite different from sustainable tourism.  Ecotourism:

  • Supports the conservation of natural areas and wildlife
  • Minimizes air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
  • Offers safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
  • Respects the cultural tradition of the host destination
  • Maintains and enhance the landscape so as to avoid physical or environmental degradation
  • Efficiently uses scarce or non-renewable resources, and
  • Maximizes opportunities for local prosperity for the host destination in the form of long-term economic viability for tourism, local management control, quality employment, local retention of visitor spending, and fair distribution of economic and social benefits.

Unfortunately, the term has been mixed with and incorrectly equated to other types of tourism including green, sustainable, adventure, responsible, and nature types of tourism.  I invite you to read more about the other definitions.

Comment by halong bay package tours on February 19, 2012 at 3:11am

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