Five Core Principles of Sustainability

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Excerpts from the key text by Michael Ben-Eli at


"The concept of "sustainable development", as coined by the World Commission on Environment and Development and with it, the term "sustainability" itself, have been gaining increasing recognition in recent years all around the world. Wide-spread use, however, has been followed by growing ambiguity so that today both terms are employed within a very broad spectrum of meaning often, to the point of trivialization.

The set of five Sustainability Principles proposed below is offered in order to advance and restore some rigor to the underlying ideas. Its development was informed by a number of existing frameworks and was inspired, in particular, by the work of R. Buckminster Fuller.

The principles are articulated in a general fashion but can receive a specific operational meaning in relation to particular sectors of the economy, development issues, business strategies, investment guidelines, or initiatives taken by individuals. They are expressed in relation to five fundamental domains:

I. The Material Domain: Constitutes the basis for regulating the flow of materials and energy that underlie existence.

II. The Economic Domain: Provides a guiding framework for husbanding and managing wealth.

III. The Domain of Life: Provides the basis for appropriate behavior in the biosphere.

IV. The Social Domain: Provides the basis for social interactions.

V. The Spiritual Domain: Identifies the necessary attitudinal orientation and provides the basis for a universal code of ethics.

The result is a set of five core principles, each with its own derived policy and operational implications. The set is fundamentally systemic in nature, meaning, that each principle affects all the others and is affected by each in return.

This systemic aspect is fundamental. It reflects the interdependent nature of reality itself. It has far reaching implications for policy and for any competent attempt at strategy for change. It implies that in seeking a transition to sustainability as a predominant planetary state, no piece-meal approach — emphasizing some aspects while neglecting others — is likely to yield effective, lasting results." (

Definition of Sustainability

"Transforming society and the world’s economy to a sustainable basis presents the most significant challenge to the 21st century. This challenge is unprecedented in scope. Its context is the planet as a whole. It requires a fundamental shift in consciousness as well as in action. It calls for a fresh vision, a new dream and new approaches for shaping an evolving new reality.

Earth is exquisitely configured to accommodate life abundantly. We have consistently compromised, however, every vital component of its intricate fabric. This trend must be reversed and a lasting balance restored.

The ultimate objective of establishing the concept of sustainability as an organizing principle is to foster a well-functioning alignment between individuals, society, the economy and the regenerative capacity of the planet's life-supporting ecosystems. This alignment represents a particular type of dynamic, balanced interaction between a population and the carrying capacity of its environment. It is this specific balance which must be the focus of a meaningful definition of sustainability.

The currently prevailing definition of sustainability emphasizes cross generational equity, clearly an important concept but one which poses difficulties since it is not always easy to determine future generations' needs. Anchoring an alternative definition to the relationship between a population and the carrying capacity of its environment offers superior operational leverage since it contains a number of key variables, all potentially measurable. For example: population numbers, a measure of well-being, rate of consumption of resources, impacts on absorption capacity of sinks, and the like.

Hence, the following:

Sustainability pertains to a balanced interaction between a population and the carrying capacity of an environment such that the population develops to express its full potential without adversely and irreversibly affecting the carrying capacity of the environment upon which it depends.

The Principles

More explanations, including policy implications, at

The First Principle:

Contain entropy and ensure that the flow of resources, through and within the economy, is as nearly non-declining as is permitted by physical laws

The Second Principle:

Adopt an appropriate accounting system, fully aligned with the planet's ecological processes and reflecting true, comprehensive biospheric pricing to guide the economy.

The Third Principle:

Ensure that the essential diversity of all forms of life in the Biosphere is maintained.

The Fourth Principle:

Maximize degrees of freedom and potential self-realization of all humans without any individual or group, adversely affecting others.

The Fifth Principle:

  1. Maximize degrees of freedom and potential
  2. Recognize the seamless, dynamic continuum
  3. Of mystery, wisdom, love, energy, and matter
  4. That links the outer reaches of the cosmos
  5. With our solar system, our planet and its biosphere
  6. Including all humans, with our internal metabolic systems
  7. And their externalized technology extensions —
  8. Embody this recognition in a universal ethics
  9. For guiding human actions


"The Five Principles as an Integrated Whole

Deeper reflection on the concept of sustainability and the five core principles which together prescribe it reveals that the spiritual dimension, the spiritual principle, is fundamental to the quality and coherence of the whole. It is rarely incorporated, however, in the conventional calculus of practical affairs.

As a guiding principle, the spiritual dimension does not carry the connotation of conventional religion. Rather, it evokes the soul-focused integration of mind and heart in realization of the essential oneness at the center of being.

By anchoring the essence of human motivation and intention, the spiritual principle acts as the causal root which sets the tone for the whole. It drives the integration of the other four principles, those related to the material, economic, life, and social domains. If integrated in a balanced way, it can infuse a common purpose, provide a common foundation, and stimulate common resolve. Lacking the ethical commitment implied by the spiritual principle, considerations of questions related to the four other domains, no matter how elaborately expressed, are reduced to mere technicalities.

By their very nature language, logic and action force separation, discrimination and choice. A balanced and full integration of all five principles is essential, however, for conceptualizing and realizing sustainability as a state. The whole set has to be integrated into a single unity in which the five principles come together as one. The five domains underlying the principles interact and co-define one another and, as in a holographic image, each embodies the whole general scheme in its own sphere. When the principles are thus integrated and seamlessly inform choices and actions, a state of sustainability, which otherwise appears as a difficult, distant goal, can be realized spontaneously and completely." (