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Organizational sustainability



A widely accepted definition of the term sustainability does not exist.

Many definitions in the literature can be traced back to the definition of sustainable development included in the report “Our Common Future by the World Commission on Environment and Development” (WCED, 1987).

The report states on page 43: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The dinition contains two key concepts:

  • The concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

  • The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.”


Based on the WCED definition, sustainability can be viewed as

  • A common goal that everybody should share and take account of whether on individual level, as private organization or as political unit
  • A requirement which demands that we should strive to have a positive social impact and consider the implication of our actions on the natural environment
  • A process that helps us to survive. It has to begin immediately and has to continue into the distant future


Context of use

The term ‘sustainability' or “sustainable” is used in many contexts. Among these are:

  • Corporate Sustainability
  • Economic Sustainability
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Financial Sustainability
  • National Sustainability
  • Organizational Sustainability
  • Programmatic Sustainability
  • Social Sustainability
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Sustainable Design
  • Sustainable Development
  • Sustainable Energy
  • Sustainable Organization
  • Sustainable Tourism


In the context of NGOs the following terms are most commonly used in the literature:

  • Financial Sustainability
  • Sustainable NGO
  • Financial Sustainability
  • Programmatic Sustainability


Guide to further reading (available online)

C. McNamara, Organizational Sustainability, at: http://managementhelp.org/organizationalsustainability/index.htm

D. Doane & A.MacGillivray; Economic Sustainability: The business of staying in business, at: http://projectsigma.co.uk/RnDStreams/RD_economic_sustain.pdf

International Institute for Sustainable Development, What is sustainable development, at: http://www.iisd.org/sd/

J. Pfeffer, Building Sustainable Organizations: The Human Factor, at: http://gsbapps.stanford.edu/researchpapers/library/RP2017R.pdf

Mango, Financial Sustainability, at: http://www.mango.org.uk/Guide/FinancialSustainability

M. K. Linnenluecke, A. Griffiths, Corporate sustainability and organizational culture, at: http://wsa.www.uq.edu.au/smart/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Corporate-sustainability-and-organizational-culture-Linnenluecke-and-Griffiths-2010.pdf

PMG, Promoting Economic Sustainability, at: http://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/rra_portal/chiefcomm/download/sipdr/finalsipdr/11sipdr.pdf

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, at: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikisource/en/d/d7/Our-common-future.pdf

The MoSOCo-operative, Model of Sustainable Organization (MoSO), at: http://www.thecqi.org/Documents/community/DEM/MoSO%20brochure.pdf

USAID, Fundamentals of NGO Financial Sustainability, at: http://www.pathfind.org/site/DocServer/Fundamentals_of_NGO_Financial_Sustainability.pdf?docID=12001

Wikipedia, Sustainability, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability, accessed on 9.1.2012

Wikipedia, Corporate Sustainability, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_sustainability, accessed on 9.1.2012

Wikipedia, Sustainable agriculture, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_agriculture, accessed on 9.1.2012

Wikipedia, Sustainable design, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_design, accessed on 9.1.2012

Wikipedia, Sustainable energy, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_energy, accessed on 9.1.2012

Wikipedia, Sustainable Tourism, at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_tourism, accessed on 9.1.2012