1.Finite Resources – the ‘Island’ Principle: The foundation of sustainable design lies in the understanding that the ecosystem that is planet Earth is essentially a closed system, an island (sunlight being the only viable external input).
Earth’s natural resources are finite. This means that limits do in fact exist. An island has undeniable limited resources and therefore unavoidable limited growth potential, regardless of what technologies exist to mutate, enhance, or otherwise artificially inflate the capacities of the natural system(s). Whether economic, industrial, or even population, growth on (within) a closed system is limited.
Proper sustainable design considers Earth as an island with finite resources and limited growth potential. This means that limits to growth, including population and resource use (wealth accumulation) should be imposed through intelligent design. Proper sustainable design requires appropriate consideration and treatment of Earth’s natural resources as either nonrenewable (ex. fossil-fuel-based products, certain minerals such as gold, silver, and iron) or renewable (ex. sunlight, wind, seed-plant-fruit cycle, wildlife).
2.Interdependency: The second principle that must be recognized and honored in any sustainability practice is that all things in nature are interconnected and interdependent. The earth is a web of interconnected networks and systems, from the micro to the macro, sub-atomic to the universal (multiversal). Nothing is isolated. No one thing can be modified, improved, degraded, etc. without imparting some change on other parts of the system. Determining whether the change is positive, negative, or neutral is a complex proposition that is often subjective, with ultimate repercussions remaining unknown well into the future.
It is the responsibility of the sustainability practitioner to approach design with a holistic lens and to evaluate to the greatest extent possible, ancillary outcomes of any proposed changes. A design is not a sustainable design if it is not ‘cradle-to-cradle’, accounting (as feasible) for all by-products at each stage of change within a comprehensive life-cycle-analysis.
3.Balance: The third principle of sustainability concerns the idea that all things and processes in nature seek balance and equilibrium. Resource accumulation and/or abundance in one area invariably means a deficit in another.
There are several examples of this in modern society. The existing commercial fishing industry is proving to be unsustainable due to a variety of factors including irresponsible fishing methods and overfishing (overdraft of resources) in order to meet an ever-increasing market demand. Sustainable design of the commercial fishing industry therefore would involve improved fishing methods and imposed fish take limits.
Another example is monetary income. All monetary income is derived from natural resources, either directly or indirectly. The correlation between wealth and natural resources suggests that the more wealth one accumulates, the more natural resources are allocated to that one person. Given the first principle of sustainability — that Earth is an island with finite resources — and given that all natural systems seek balance, it stands to reason, ecologically speaking, that limits to wealth should be imposed so that one person or one entity should not be allowed to accumulate a disproportionate share of resources while others are left in scarcity. This is not to say that all people ought to be given the same rations of resources, including wealth. Instead, the argument is intended to address the allowance of gross disparities where two people — who are more-or-less the same in ability, talent, drive, etc. — are afforded very different amounts of resources (wealth accumulation) through fortune, chance, pre-existing privilege, or some other fate, and not according to the degree of hard work they impart or service they provide to the greater good.
4.Purpose: All things in nature (animals, processes), serve a purpose or a function. Nothing that nature produces is superfluous. The most beautiful, “artful” creations in nature do not exist as independent pieces of art, existing for art’s sake, but serve some ecological purpose. As such, proper sustainable design should account for the useful function of all elements in the design. If there are aesthetic elements, for example, those should be purposeful by design, even if the purpose is simple such as bringing about improved feelings of happiness and well-being. That said, it is better that even aesthetic elements serve a utilitarian purpose in addition to the aesthetic.
A subset of this principle is the principle of Zero Waste: As in all natural systems, sustainable design provides for all by-products and outputs of all processes and products to be fully recyclable and renewable as inputs to either the same cycle or an entirely new system, or some combination thereof. Under no circumstances should waste be “managed” as an end product, whether through storage, dilution, chemical or physical mutation, or (especially not) on- or off-site dumping. Note: this principle is similar to the fourth principle but differentiation between the two is important.
5.Intrinsic Value: All naturally-occurring things, living and non, have some absolute, intrinsic value in-and-of-themselves. Appropriate sustainable design recognizes and accounts for this value, respecting the item for its own contribution(s), for the service(s) it provides within the interconnected systems of the world.
A tree is a great example. Under capitalism, a tree has little to no value in-and-of-itself. Instead, its value lies in its fruit (nuts), or if it has no fruit, the value is extracted once the tree is cut down and either milled and sold for lumber or consumed as firewood. By contrast, in sustainable practice, a tree is valued not only for its fruit but for the oxygen it exhales, the habitat and nourishment it provides to wildlife, temperature regulation both for local biomes and the global climate, pollination, soil stabilization, aesthetic value, etcetera.
A subset of this principle is the Hierarchy Value System: In order for a system or process to be sustainable, it must prioritize above all else that (those) pre-existing system(s) or process(es) which enables it to exist. For humans — for all living organisms — this pre-existing system is the Earth itself, along with all of its integrated systems and interconnected relationships.
For this reason, socio-economic systems such as single-bottom-line, for-profit enterprises — even triple-bottom-line businesses — are not long-term ecologically sustainable. TBL is more sustainable than SBL as it, in theory, values the environment as much as it does monetary profit. However, this is not sufficient. Sustainable design necessitates a priority on the environment as a prerequisite to life. In an ecologically-sustainable system — not economics, not politics, not even social issues — nothing is given higher priority than the natural systems and processes that sustain life. Any man-made system, business, process, etc. should allow provisions that prioritize the natural systems that make possible the anthropogenic system in question.
6.Cooperation over competition: In order for a system to be sustainable, it must be cooperative at a fundamental level, as is consistent with the second principle of sustainability: that no one thing exists by itself, independently. Instead, all things are interdependent and thus need to cooperate with others and to establish some level of symbiosis. Recall that the Earth is an island. Therefore, all organisms are co-habitating and must learn to cooperate, to share space and resources. Competition does exist in nature and is important. However, competition is a condition of evolution, not a precondition for simple existence. Cooperation is. The priority in a sustainable system must be cooperation before any sort of competition is established.
7.Spectrum of Sustainability: Given that the only constant is change, that nothing lasts forever, fundamentally there can be no absolute sustainability. Therefore, sustainability should be measured or evaluated in degrees across a spectrum with some practices, products, entities, etc. being more sustainable, or less so, than others.
 See the Third Principle of Sustainability
 Limits to growth within a finite system are inevitable and will be imposed eventually in some form. Limits imposed through natural means can be violent, abrupt, and catastrophic. Examples include extreme weather events that seek to limit biomass growth or balance the water cycle, or a (naturally-occurring) biological epidemic or pandemic that erupts as a result of overcrowding and as a mechanism of population reduction. It stands to reason that intelligent, human-imposed limits (to growth) can be imparted under controlled conditions with proper preparation and management, thereby helping to mitigate the potentially more violent option of nature-imposed limits.
 The capitalism system allows unlimited wealth accumulation through markets that may be based on real labor and materials exchange as well as entirely fabricated exchanges such as stock market trading and real-estate investing. Furthermore, wealth accumulation under capitalism is in many cases by chance or privilege and not commensurate with the service that the person or entity provides to the greater good, be it humanity or nature. In this way, capitalism is antagonistic to the principles of sustainability and therefore not sustainable.