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Sustainability Definitions

There are many definitions of sustainable development, most of which incorporate the notion that true sustainability must balance economic, social and environmental dimensions. USDA bases its approach to agricultural sustainability on two definitions, both of which incorporate the three dimensions of sustainability:

Farm Bills: The 1977 and 1990 “Farm Bills” describe sustainable agriculture as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations;
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Section 1404(17) of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (7 U.S.C. 3103(17) and the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624. Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603, GPO, Washington, D.C., 1990 NAL Call#KF1692.A31 1990.

USDA Consensus Statement (2011): The U.S. Department of Agriculture is committed to working with partners and stakeholders toward sustainability of diverse agricultural, forest and range systems. USDA seeks to balance the goals of:

  • Satisfying human needs;
  • Enhancing environmental quality, the resource base, and ecosystem services;
  • Sustaining the economic viability of agriculture;
  • Enhancing the quality of life for farmers, ranchers, forest mangers, workers and society as a whole.

USDA integrates these goals into its policies and programs, particularly through interagency collaboration, partnership and outreach at both domestic and international levels.

USDA encourages the development and adoption of place-and-scale-appropriate management, production, distribution, and information systems that advance continuous, integrated progress toward all of these goals across landscapes, supply chains and markets. USDA also supports the principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” in relation to efficient product handling, processing, transportation, packaging, trade, consumption and waste management.