21 Sustainability Examples

sustainability examples and definition, explained below

Sustainability refers to the principle of meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Sustainability assists in the preservation and renewal of natural resources, promoting ecological balance and biodiversity and preserving our planet for future generations.

However, achieving sustainability is no easy feat. One challenge is the lack of cooperation and coordination among stakeholders. 

Despite this challenge, there are amazing examples of sustainability in action. For instance, some communities have adopted green building practices to reduce energy consumption and emissions while increasing efficiency.

In this article, we’ll explore 21 such examples. But first, a trusted definition from an expert source.

chrisComprehension Questions: As you read through this article, our editor Chris will pose comprehension and critical thinking questions to help you get the most out of this article. Teachers, if you assign this article for homework, have the students answer these questions at home, then use them as stimuli for in-class discussion.

Definition of Sustainability

Sustainability refers to the principle of maintaining ecological balance on earth.

This ensures a healthy, productive, and resilient environment, and can help deliver environmental justice, such as protection of nature for the well-being of future generations.

Sustainability as a concept encourages long-term planning, responsible management of resources, and continuous innovation for reducing environmental footprints.

One popular definition of sustainability comes from the influential Brundtland report (1987):

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, 1987

chrisComprehension Checkpoint: Based upon the above expert quotes and definitions, come up with your own paraphrased definition of sustainability.

Types of Sustainability

While generally, the term sustainability refers to sustainability of the environment, there are various other types of sustainability that intersect and interact with it, including:

  1. Environmental Sustainability: This type involves practices that help protect the natural environment and reduce harm to ecosystems (see: environmental injustices), such as reducing pollution, conserving natural resources, and promoting biodiversity (Caradonna, 2014; Robertson, 2017).
  2. Social Sustainability: This type focuses on maintaining and improving social equity, human rights, community development, and social interactions.
  3. Economic Sustainability: This concerns the capacity of an economy to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely.
  4. Cultural Sustainability: This type of sustainability focuses on preserving and nurturing cultural beliefs, heritage, and values in the face of globalization.
  5. Political Sustainability: This involves creating systems of governance that ensure fair and equitable distribution of resources, uphold justice, and encourage public participation (Caradonna, 2014; Robertson, 2017).

Below, we will focus on environmental sustainability.

Sustainability Examples

1. Renewable Energy: Implementing solar panels or wind turbines to generate clean energy without contributing to air pollution. This reduces reliance on non-renewable and polluting resources such as coal and oil.

2. Sustainable Agriculture: Using organic farming methods to produce food that is free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This can reduce runoff pollutants that get into the water stream and can kill-off the biodiversity of a region and throw-off the ecological balance needed for the survival of local species (Cavagnaro & Curiel, 2022).

3. Public Transportation: Encouraging the use of public transportation, biking, or carpooling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicles (Ives et al., 2018). An actionable example of this is the use of high-occupancy transit lanes that incentivize carpooling and taking the bus (which can use the lanes to bypass heavy traffic).

4. Recycling Programs: Setting up curbside recycling programs or partnering with local recycling initiatives will help divert waste from landfills and support the circular economy (Pezzey, 2017).

5. Green Buildings: Constructing green buildings using sustainable materials and applying energy-efficient systems like heating, ventilation, and lighting can significantly minimize environmental impact and save money on utility bills in the long run (Robertson, 2017). To this end, most developed countries now expect green initiatives to be included in all new builds.

6. Water Conservation: Reducing water usage through upgrading plumbing fixtures with low-flow options or implementing rainwater harvesting techniques can aid water conservation efforts amid shortages (Thangavel & Sridevi, 2016; Washington, 2015).

7. Circular Economy Practices: Creating closed-loop systems where items are reused, recycled, refurbished, etc., rather than being discarded after their useful life has ended. This can limit the amount of waste produced and also lower costs if done efficiently.

chrisComprehension Checkpoint: Of the above examples, which ones can be done on an individual level, and which ones need to be done on a cultural, social, or political level?

8. Waste Reduction Campaigns: Running campaigns within companies or schools advocating for behaviors around reducing plastic usage and avoiding single-use products can reduce littering in aquatic environments as well as land-based issues associated with improper disposal of waste (Thangavel & Sridevi, 2016).

9. Sustainable Fashion Industry Initiatives: Invest in eco-fashion brands that utilize sustainable materials such as organic cotton over conventional cotton (which requires more resources for cultivation, and it reduces dependence on pesticides/fertilizers). This can divert funding away from fast fashion brands where clothing is designed to be discarded every few months (Cavagnaro & Curiel, 2022). Furthermore, fashion industry initiatives often also focus on ethical labor practices and reducing child labor in supply chains. 

10. Green Technology Advancements: invest in electric cars and buses to decrease emission levels emitted by vehicles reliant on gasoline and diesel. As part of this, there needs to be a focus on EV battery recycling and environmentally friendly production and disposal.

11. Public Awareness Programs: Support awareness campaigns promoting knowledge about environmental instability, e.g. Climate Change advocacy through media outreach, documentaries aimed at making individuals aware concerning environmental challenges, and encouraging people to spend their money on companies that focus on sustainability (Cavagnaro & Curiel, 2022).

12. Waterway Cleanups: Organizing cleanups of nearby beaches, lakes, and rivers in the community on a regular basis can help prevent harmful pollution from endangering aquatic life and wildlife.

13. Sustainable Tourism: promoting eco-tourism rather than traditionally popular mass tourism can reduce environmental damage such as land degradation, and water scarcity due to overuse by tourists.

14. Ethical Investing: Being informed about your portfolio and ensuring that investments are ethical with regards to impact upon environment & society. Some investors focus on eliminating fossil-fuel-driven securities from their portfolios altogether with support for renewable energy-focused industries (Pezzey, 2017; Ives et al., 2018).

chrisComprehension Checkpoint: Based upon the examples presented here, come up with some categories of areas of the economy where we can focus on improving sustainable economic and consumer practices.

15. Carbon Offset Programs: Opting for the purchase of carbon offset programs if you need to travel by air may offer an alternative approach to minimizing carbon emissions. 

16. Alternative Energy Storage: Developing new technology in energy storage such as alternative batteries (e.g., lithium-ion) and peaker plants to store renewable energy will allow it to be released when required which could lead towards ending reliance upon non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels.

17. Plant-based Eating: Lifestyle choices portraying plant-based diets have grown significantly in recent times. This change aims at lessening unsustainable practices characterizing some elements of animal agriculture specifically aiming at reducing deforestation driven by upscaling meat production, etc (Washington, 2015).

18. Green Shipping Models: Focusing research into green shipping such as green-energy applications like wind-powered cargo ships. Companies within this sector are increasingly seeking progressive sustainable solutions that work within marine transportation.

19. Enterprise Carbon Footprint Analysis: Some companies analyze their carbon footprints internally through resource tracking as it plays a growing role in sustainable management. The data acquired helps ascertain emissions units covering numerous elements associated with business operations-companies can then strategize effectively for minimizing waste.

20. Food Waste Reduction: Minimizing food waste by composting food scraps or donating excess food to local food banks and homeless shelters.

21. Vertical Farming: Vertical farming is an innovative method of farming that involves growing crops in vertically stacked layers, typically integrated into other structures like skyscrapers, used warehouses, or shipping containers.

chrisComprehension Checkpoint: Having explored the above examples, which ones do you think you could implement in your own life to reduce your personal environmental footprint?

Barriers to Achieving Sustainability

There is a range of barriers to achieving sustainability practices, which explain why – despite looming climate change and rapid ecological deterioration around the world – we still have not achieved a stable ecological footprint on this earth.

Some of the main barriers are briefly presented below:

  1. Limited Public Awareness: Many people are not fully informed about the benefits of sustainable practices and how to implement them in their daily lives. Furthermore, they may lack awareness of the pressing need for the world to get onto a sustainable footing (Washington, 2015; Robertson, 2017), which will require education for sustainable development.
  2. Lack of Political Will: Governments may lack sufficient willpower to enforce sustainable policies due to a perception that such measures could adversely impact the economy or the government’s prospects at the next election.
  3. Cost Barriers: Integrating sustainable technologies can require significant initial investment, making it sometimes prohibitive for small businesses or companies already operating with minimal profit margins (Caradonna, 2014). Hence, often initiatives like carbon taxes are required to tip the scales and make sustainable practices more economically viable.
  4. Technological Limitations: Technological solutions required for implementing sustainable practices may not be available at affordable costs, thereby hindering adoption. Despite this, many believe the fastest way to achieve sustainability is to achieve rapid technological advancement (Cavagnaro & Curiel, 2022; Pezzey, 2017).
  5. Reluctance towards changing consumption patterns: Consumption habits established over generations are hard to shift which makes switching over towards new sustainably-driven ones challenging. Changing consumer behaviors at times feels like turning around an ocean liner.

The above five examples are not the only ones, but do represent five key issues that still need to be overcome in order to reach a more sustainable world.


Sustainability is an important aspiration, and the above examples of sustainability demonstrate some ways both individuals and society can strive toward a more ecologically positive footing. Nevertheless, as presented, there are some key barriers still yet to be overcome in order to reach our important goals.


Caradonna, J. L. (2014). Sustainability: A history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cavagnaro, E., & Curiel, G. H. (2022). The three levels of sustainability. London: Taylor & Francis.

Ives, C. D., Abson, D. J., Von Wehrden, H., Dorninger, C., Klaniecki, K., & Fischer, J. (2018). Reconnecting with nature for sustainability. Sustainability science, 13, 1389-1397.

Pezzey, J. (2017). Sustainability: an interdisciplinary guide. In The economics of sustainability (pp. 103-144). New York: Routledge.

Robertson, M. (2017). Sustainability principles and practice. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Thangavel, P., & Sridevi, G. (2016). Environmental Sustainability. New Delhi: Springer.

Washington, H. (2015). Demystifying sustainability: Towards real solutions. London: Routledge.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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