A Sustainability Primer


Sustainability is an overwhelming topic. It is a social issue, an environmental issue and an economic issue of global scope. How does one explore a topic of this size? It's quite simple, actually. Do you know how one eats an elephant? One. bite. at. a. time.

This primer is organized into three bites, or time frames: present, past and possible, with the acknowledgment that each measure of time is relative. The first time frame reviews the present social, environmental and economic conditions and drivers being experienced in varying degrees around the world. The second time frame investigates the factors that have contributed to those conditions historically and in the more recent past. The third time frame explores methods that can and are helping address our global condition.

It is necessary to make clear that this small primer can only hope to do a bit of justice to the breadth and complexity of the subject of sustainability as a discipline and movement. I encourage you to use this primer as a stepping stone to more inquires about the global social, environmental and economic challenges facing humanity. You can view/download it here. (Use this file if you'd like to have a physical copy - the pages will print in an order that you can bind. Be sure to print front and back!) A growing library of literature, websites, blogs, and talks await you if you find yourself to compelled to delve further into the challenges that face us all. A glossary of terms not explicitly defined within the text is provided so that we may all begin to share the same meaning of the sustainability lexicon used within, so that it may frame our worldview for change.

From the introduction--
If the meaning of words gain legitimacy from shared use1, do the importance of the words and their meanings also gain shared legitimacy in the same manner? And if language usage influences our worldviews2, can the shared use of words and their meanings galvanize humanity towards cooperative action?

It is the intent of this primer to share words and meanings in the form of theories, principles and frameworks that will inform and inspire our worldview and perhaps be a catalyst in a united shift from words to actions.

Let’s begin by aligning our understanding of the meanings of the words that title this primer: wellbeing and sustainable. What is wellbeing to you? Do you have an idea of what sustainability means? Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.3 It is existing in a satisfactory condition. Sustainable is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.3 It is the opportunity to continue. A sustainable wellbeing is therefore defined as the opportunity to continue existing in a satisfactory condition.

This is the movement of our time.


  1. Sutton, Philip. “What is sustainability?.” Green Innovations, The Journal of the Victorian Association for Environmental Education: n. pag. Print.

  2. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis”. Stanford University. Stanford University. .

  3. As defined by the World Oxford English Dictionary, 2014.