Various meanings of sustainability emerged at specific historical times shaped by different prevailing energy systems. Even though sustainability in the Anthropocene always included views that saw nature as resource and hence linked sustainable practices to profit-making (yield), there are qualitative differences in the very meaning of sustainability and the ways it related to eighteenth-century forestry practices, nineteenth- and twentieth-century conservation efforts and twentieth-century environmental activism and global development goals. Some of these meanings may have been building on each other, others developed in opposition to previous understandings of sustainability. There is no straightforward, linear evolution of the term and it may be misleading to relate past meanings teleologically to today’s definitions as this may overshadow different meanings that were prominent at different times in history. A comparison over time and throughout the Anthropocene shows that the concept needs to be understood within its specific historical context.