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About Sustainability

About Sustainability

As recently as several years ago, “sustainability” was a term discussed primarily in academic and policy circles. The UN Brundtland Report (PDF) was an early adopter, referring to sustainability as “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Since then, the term has entered the mainstream of national discourse, becoming a buzzword in the popular press and capturing the imagination of a broad spectrum of society. This journey has brought inevitable soul-searching about what sustainability really means. Working to define sustainability is an important way to avoid the unfortunate trend toward “greenwashing” — environmentally harmful activities that seek to claim an environmentally-friendly mantle.

Though there are many definitions of sustainability in circulation today, a few common principles seem to unite them all:

  • The first is the conviction that meeting present needs should not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • The second is that there are limitations to nature’s capacity, and these limitations must be respected, or even embraced.
  • The third is that nothing is isolated, but rather, the world is interconnected across social, economic, and environmental boundaries.

NYU has the remarkable opportunity to contribute to sustainability on three distinct scales of impact.

  • The first is by directly preventing or reducing the adverse environmental impacts that result from the operation of such a large institution; the scale and influence of NYU can result in extraordinarily potent actions, which can shift patterns of consumption throughout New York City more broadly.
  • The next means of impact is less direct, but even larger in scale: by infusing every aspect of the university’s activities and operations with sustainability education, we can alter the perceptions of the thousands of students, faculty and administrators that call NYU home every year. Over the course of our lives, members of the NYU community can carry the message of sustainability far beyond the campus and city.
  • The third opportunity for advancing sustainability is broader yet in scale: as a major research university that is uniquely embedded in the urban fabric of New York City, NYU can not only develop resources, ideas, and practices that further university sustainability efforts; it can also export its knowledge to cities and urban centers all over the world.

Read more about the history of sustainability at NYU, or check out the Fast Facts for more information.