By Stephanie Jiménez
One of the most common mistakes made when talking about sustainability is to confuse sustainability with sustainable development. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) bases its definition of sustainable development on a 1987 Bruntland Commission Report: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The development aspect of this definition refers to the intersections of economics, society, culture, and the environment. What gets mistaken is that sustainability, rather than sustainable development, defines the overarching long-term goal of balancing our current needs with those of the future. Sustainable development describes the processes that help us achieve those goals. Clarifying the distinction between the two meanings is valuable because should we continue to rely on sustainability as a tangible goal for governments and businesses to follow, we leave little room for specificity in how sustainability is to develop. For example, sustainable agriculture can be understood as ensuring the world is able to produce and distribute food to every person without compromising our abilities to produce and distribute food to everyone in the future. Sustainable development in agriculture can look like switching to agricultural systems that conserve water and biodiversity, redistributing land, reducing the use of fossil fuels, ensuring people who are marginalized are part of decision-making processes, etc. Sustainable development requires more than a declaration of sustainability for one aspect of a problem. Goals should become extremely specific so leaders may determine exactly how sustainability is to be established for various specific contexts.