As the world's natural resources dwindle and critical levels of environmental pollution are approached, sustainability becomes a key issue for governments, organisations and individuals. With the consequences of such an issue in mind, this paper introduces a unifying approach to measure the sustainability performance of socio-economic systems based on the interplay between two key variables: essentiality of consumption and environmental impact. This measure attributes to every system a ‘fitness’ value i.e. a quantity that reflects its ability to remain resilient/healthy by avoiding ecological, social and economic collapse as it consumes the available resources. This new measure is tested on a system where there is a limited supply of resources and four basic consumption types. The analysis has theoretical implications as well as practical importance as it can help countries, organisations or even individuals, in finding better ways to measure sustainability performance.