The term "sustainable" is commonly misused as though it means "better for the natural environment"; but it has a very specific meaning that doesn't necessarily relate to the natural environment at all.


To sustain something is to maintain it —  to act on it in such a way that it will continue to exist and to function.


If something is treated sustainably it will remain essentially as it is, unaffected by what is done to it. To treat something in a way that causes it to be irrecoverably depleted or destroyed is to treat it unsustainably. The sustainability of something is its persistence when subjected to the things that are done to it.


The important point of sustainability is not that we simply look after something in some way, but that what we do to it allows it to be maintained and to be able to continue functioning properly, as it would if left alone. The essence of sustainability is continuity.

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