The concept of Sustainability, as it was first introduced to me in the mid 2000s, is similar to the Great Law of the Iroquois, which is that present-day actions must consider how people seven generations into the future will be affected. For example: would tilling the soil on a given acre of land to plant a certain crop negatively affect its nutrient content in 140 years?
Back in 2009, when I was enrolled as one of the first Sustainability majors at Baldwin-Wallace University, it was still a relatively new idea that had not yet entered into the mindset of most people. I remember explaining the meaning of Sustainability countless times to people who asked what my major was.
The ideal application of Sustainability in business considers its three pillars in its activities: Economic, Environment, and Society. Another label is People, Planet, and Profit. Much like the agriculture example above, the goal would be to produce goods and services that people need using methods that have the least negative impact upon society as possible while making enough money at it to continue doing so.
As it caught on with socially conscious consumers, the concept (and the word itself) of Sustainability has simply become broadly overused. As such, its original meaning and intentions have become lost in some applications.