What Are the Three Pillars of Sustainability?

Even though the term "sustainability" is widely used, its definition might be vague. What is meant by the word "sustainable"? How do we travel there as well? In this blog post, I dissect the three pillars of sustainability and offer suggestions for changing one's lifestyle to one that is more sustainable.

For years, people have used the word "sustainability," but what does it actually mean?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure or to continue existing.

The three main pillars of sustainability, despite the fact that it could seem like an abstract concept, are economic growth, social justice, and environmental conservation.

If we follow these sustainability guidelines, all living things on this planet will have a healthier environment to live in.

Everyone is eager to discover new ways to live more sustainably and to improve their total environmental impact.

Although most people regrettably don't understand what sustainability is, that doesn't mean you should pass it up!

In order to help create a greener future, this essay will discuss three sustainability pillars that you may apply to your everyday activities.

Which three elements encourage sustainability? Recently, the word "sustainability" has received a lot of discussion, although it can be challenging to understand.

In this blog post, the three sustainability pillars will be covered along with how they work together to create sustainable lifestyles.

The cornerstone of sustainability is consumption.

You can use fewer resources than you create by carefully choosing the things and services you buy.

The second pillar entails producing goods and services with minimum pollution or waste, from raw materials to completed commodities, without having an impact on the communities in which they are produced or used.

Then there is fairness, which is the development of commercial prospects for both consumers and producers so that everyone gains from a reasonable and equitable economic system.

The first pillar of sustainability is environmental preservation. You reduce your impact on the environment by using fewer resources, such as water, electricity, and other resources.

The second pillar is social responsibility, which is knowing how your actions might influence others in society.

Additionally, stable economic conditions encourage businesses to operate in a manner that won't jeopardise their own survival or the financial security of their employees.

These three pillars support a more sustainable way of living for everyone involved when used together.

You must make little-by-little improvements in each of the three areas rather than attempting to solve everything at once.

You can use a variety of methods to monitor your progress along the way, but maintain your attention on the goal.

The most important thing is to have a strategy in place with goals that align with the mission statement of your business or organisation.

The pillars could work together to create a system that is connected and will benefit coming generations.

The first step in attaining this aim is for each individual to make little changes at home or at work to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment.

For instance, shutting off the lights when you leave a room or using recycled items like clothing rather than new ones you buy from retailers.

Working together, we can make our present and future selves better!

Learn more about these pillars as well as how you can help all living beings on the world have better lives by reading on.

The Three Pillars of Corporate Sustainability

The three pillars of sustainability—the environment, social environment, and economic environment—all work together to protect the integrity of the environment and enhance human well-being.

The three sustainability pillars are not well defined or routinely used. The three pillars and the idea of "sustainable" are therefore now open to various interpretations.

Even though there are many methods to understand each pillar separately, the three pillars are meant to work together and in harmony for genuine sustainability to occur.

Corporate sustainability is a hot topic in both large and small businesses. Sustainability has been identified as a top priority by numerous real corporate giants, like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT), McDonald's Corporation (MCD), and others.

Other businesses are now being pushed to demonstrate how they intend to commit to and provide their goods and services sustainably. Naturally, this raises the question of what exactly all of this implies.

The acronyms ESG, which stands for environment, social, and governance, or SRI, which stands for socially responsible investment, can be used to refer to corporate sustainability in investments. The most common definition of sustainability is "fulfilling existing needs without sacrificing ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs."

Key Takeaways

  • Investors that prioritise social responsibility as well as financial benefit are growing more and more concerned with company sustainability.
    ESG investments stand for the three pillars of sustainable investing: governance, social responsibility, and the environment.
    The emergence of socially aware funds and ETFs may finally provide corporate sustainability a competitive edge for a company's bottom line.

    Viewpoints for sustainability

    Let's examine the motivations for researching sustainability. These can be reasoning, emotion, or instinct, depending on your point of view.

    They frequently centre on the notion that humanity's primary drive is survival. Here are three viewpoints on sustainability:

    • According to the Ecologist, people are not merely a part of the earth and its resources but also a crucial element of them. They are motivated by the idea that both people and nature have inherent value and should be protected as a result.
    • The environmentalist holds that people are not a part of the natural world or nature itself. Since we created and are accountable for the Earth, we should be its stewards. They think that in order for humanity to survive and grow, the earth needs to be safeguarded.
    • The Economist admits that a consumer-driven culture that sees scarce resources as a source of income is unsustainable, but it believes that market forces and a "business as usual" mentality will result in a natural crisis aversion. In other words, if the system is left to its own devices, it will resolve itself through technological advancements.

      We can gain by thinking about our motivations for seeking sustainability. This might help us articulate our views on sustainability and our level of commitment to achieving it.

      Think about why you chose to take this course.

      Which of social equality, environmental protection, or economic viability piques your interest? Which viewpoint most closely matches your own?

      The Environmental Pillar

      The environmental pillar has its origins in the numerous initiatives made to preserve natural resources, safeguard the environment, and decrease environmental impact through time.

      The enterprises are now looking at ways to carry out their operations with as little harm to the environment as possible.

      Protecting the environment is the aim of environmental sustainability.

      The improvement of environmental stresses including glasshouse gas emissions, air quality, and water quality is covered by this pillar.

      Human health and environmental conditions are strongly correlated, with environmental quality having a significant impact on human health.

      As a result, activities taken to preserve the environment and restore it also benefit people.

      Often, the environmental aspect is the one that gets the most attention.

      Businesses are working harder to reduce their environmental effect overall, as well as their carbon footprints, packaging waste, and water usage.

      Businesses have realised that improving the planet may also increase their profits.

      For instance, reducing the amount of material needed for packing often lowers the cost of materials as a whole.

      As part of its zero-waste plan, Walmart put a special emphasis on packaging. It urged suppliers to use less packaging overall and to acquire more packaging made of recycled or reused materials.

      The natural resources needed to enable long-term economic growth are also provided by the environment. Natural resource extraction is crucial for enterprises to be economically viable.

      Because resources will still be available, efforts to extract them at levels that are sustainable for the environment will also assure economic sustainability.

      The environmental component is addressed through benchmarking and decreasing in other sectors that blatantly affect the environment, such as mining or food production.

      The environmental pillar has certain drawbacks, though, including the fact that it typically doesn't fully account for a company's impact, leaving externalities unaccounted for.

      It is challenging to calculate the total costs of wastewater, carbon dioxide, land reclamation, and waste in general because firms aren't always accountable for the trash they make.

      Benchmarking is used in this case to attempt to quantify such externalities so that the efforts being made to eliminate them may be tracked and reported in a meaningful manner.

      The Social Pillar

      It defines human capital as developments in politics in areas like leisure, security, and education as well as the creation of tools that improve inhabitants' quality of life.

      According to this pillar, the quest of a sustainable society is predicated on the notion of a compassionate and healthy society.

      In order to support everyone's personal and collective growth, it is also crucial to cultivate open and positive working relationships.

      Another ill-defined concept, the social pillar is connected to social licence. The community in which a business operates, its stakeholders, and its employees should all support it.

      Although there are numerous approaches to gaining and maintaining this support, they ultimately come down to treating employees fairly and acting as a good neighbour and part of the community both locally and globally.

      Social sustainability includes, among other key societal elements, environmental justice, human health, resource security, and education.

      The three pillars hypothesis states that actions to promote social sustainability should also strive to create economic and environmental benefits.

      12 trillion dollars

      Sustainable, responsible, and impact investment climbed at a rate of more than 38% between 2016 and 2018, from $8.7 trillion in 2016 to $12 trillion in 2018, according to the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

      One strategy for businesses to create social sustainability is to put less emphasis on financial concerns and more emphasis on personnel retention.

      Spending on employee well-being, for example, is likely to benefit the company financially by increasing staff motivation.

      Environmental sustainability is improved by increased social sustainability. For instance, food choices can have a big impact on the health of both individuals and the environment.

      So encouraging a healthier diet can also benefit the environment.

      Businesses are emphasising on programmes for employee engagement and retention, including more flexible benefits such improved maternity and paternity benefits, flexible scheduling, and chances for professional growth.

      In order to give back to the community, businesses have devised a range of techniques, including fundraising, sponsorship, scholarships, and investment in local public activities.

      A business must be aware of how its global social supply chain is being filled. For instance, does your finished product include any work done by children? Does everyone get paid fairly? Is the location of work safe?

      Many large retailers have struggled with this since tragedies like the Bangladesh factory collapse, which brought to light previously unacknowledged difficulties in purchasing from the lowest-cost supplier, sparked public outrage.

      The Economic Pillar

      It addresses concerns like the production, marketing, and use of goods and services.

      In order to be sustainable, businesses cannot profit from the exploitation of their employees or the careless and unlawful exploitation of the environment.

      Since they use less water, energy, and materials overall, the financial sector benefits from sustainable attitudes by having reduced monthly costs.

      Or to put it another way, the economy and sustainability are in a positive feedback loop.

      Most businesses believe they have a solid foundation in the economic pillar of sustainability. To survive, a business needs to be profitable.

      But one cannot prioritise profit over the other two pillars.

      The economic pillar does not, in fact, focus on maximising profit at any costs. Activities that fall within the economic pillar include compliance, good governance, and risk management.

      These are currently standard operating practises for the majority of North American corporations, but not everywhere.

      Economic sustainability includes the creation of jobs, financial success, and precise accounting of ecosystem services for the optimum cost-benefit analyses.

      High rates of employment are advantageous to the economy and the social welfare of the population, according to research on the labour market, because of the resource stability that employment brings.

      The economic pressures that cause firms to need employees and people to need jobs can therefore help to advance social sustainability if employment gives people stability.

      To emphasise good corporate governance, this pillar is occasionally referred to as the governance pillar.

      This shows that the interests of the boards of directors and management are consistent with those of the company's shareholders, community, value chains, and end users.

      Investors could be curious about governance information, such as whether a business maintains accurate and transparent accounting procedures or allows stockholders to cast votes on important issues.

      Additionally, they could seek assurances that companies won't select board members with conflicts of interest, use political donations to obtain unfairly favourable treatment, and, of course, won't act unethically.

      Incorporating the economic pillar and profit into sustainability programmes enables corporate backing.

      The economic pillar also serves as a safeguard against overly aggressive actions that firms would feel under pressure to adopt, such as stopping the use of fossil fuels or chemical fertilisers immediately rather than gradually altering their practises.

      But the gig economy of today makes it difficult to sustain both social and economic sustainability.

      Many people contribute to the financial stability of enterprises as a result of the gig economy without receiving the social safety nets that are often provided by employment.

      An organization's efforts to be more ecologically sustainable can also enhance its economic sustainability.

      Recycling valuable materials, such as textile and electronic waste, for instance, can lower operational costs and the quantity of resource extraction required to keep businesses operating.

      The Impact of Sustainability

      Investors and executives are primarily concerned with whether sustainability is advantageous to a company.

      Talent acquisition, Kaizen, community involvement, and other corporate trends have all been practically incorporated into sustainability plans. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

      By focusing on sustainability, businesses can renew their dedication to key goals like efficiency, sustainable growth, and shareholder value. This provides businesses a wider goal and some new deliverables to aim for.

      Perhaps more importantly, a well-publicized sustainability strategy can result in intangible benefits like enhanced reputation and public goodwill. Why not, if it gives a company credit for already finished work?

      However, for the companies who are unable to develop a thorough plan to advance in these three areas, there are no appreciable market ramifications.

      Like compliance is for publicly traded firms, sustainability and a public commitment to its core business principles appear to be growing in popularity.

      If this occurs, companies without sustainability plans may face a market penalty as opposed to proactive companies experiencing a market premium.

      Although it has become a catchphrase, sustainability is here to stay. Some companies view sustainability as an opportunity to bring together several activities under one overarching topic and gain public awareness.

      Achieving sustainability may require certain firms to face challenging questions about the how and why of their business processes, which could have a major, if gradual, impact on their operations.

      Using these pillars to gauge a company's sustainability makes it easy to ascertain how near an organisation is to being sustainable.

      After analysis, a sustainable business is one that either maintains its existing level of development or supports efforts to enhance the levels in the three areas.

      Since sustainability cannot exist without these three pillars, the three pillars harmoniously interact with one another on a fundamental level.

      Each of the pillars illustrates a situation where sustainability is put into practise while also showing how interdependent they are.

      World population and associated impacts

      More than 7 billion people lived on the world in 2015. There were around 1.6 billion people on the earth a century ago, and there were about half as many people in the 1960s as there are today.

      Although the rate of population growth is questionable, it will nonetheless rise. This is because the demand for resources on the world is increased by the fact that every individual on the planet depends on them in order to survive.

      Despite the fact that a greater population often equals more mouths to feed, there isn't a uniform distribution of consumption patterns throughout the world. One of the most blatant indications of unsustainable behaviour is the unequal distribution of income. Still, only a small portion of the world's poorest people have access to food, water, or energy.

      A team of academics with the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the United Nations University published the first paper ever for the entire world in 2006 that covered the major elements of household wealth, including financial assets and debts as well as real estate, homes, and other tangible property.

      Based on data from the year 2000, this study found that the wealthiest 1% of the adult population worldwide, or people with at least $514,512 in nett worth, owned 39.9% of the world's household wealth, which was higher than the wealth of the world's poorest 95%, or people with incomes under $150,145, who collectively hold just 29.4% of the global wealth.

      More than half of the world's assets are owned by the richest 2% of adults, while the poorest 50% hold just 1%. The unequal distribution of personal wealth around the world is what led to this.

      The USA consumes 25% of all energy even though its population only makes up 4.5% of the world total. The data on material, water, and food consumption between the richest and poorest countries show comparable levels of difference.

      Population growth is much higher in developing countries even while resource use and pollution are higher in industrialised nations. The distance between the spectrum's extremes has been increasing dramatically as a result.

      Both environment and humanity (the social corner of the sustainability triangle) are crucial to sustainability (the ecological). Reducing this inequity and providing the planet's inhabitants with a subsistence level of living must come first in the quest to find a sustainable solution.

      Applications of the Three Pillars

      Since the 1980s, when they initially acquired widespread appeal, businesses, governments, and organisations have implemented the three pillars into their operations with varied degrees of success.

      However, philosophically speaking, the three pillars alone are not enough to ensure sustainability.

      Commercial Fishing

      Some contend that when it comes to the three pillars of sustainability, the fishing industry's business motives are in direct conflict with both social and environmental sustainability.

      In order to attain economic sustainability, the fishing industry is accused of overfishing the world's oceans, harming the ecosystem and the people who depend on its supplies.

      Despite the apparent conflict between the economic sustainability of the commercial fishing sector and the other two pillars, a recent study claims that the three pillars of sustainability are compatible when it comes to the fishing industry.

      The study suggests that the best way to address overfishing's short-term economic drivers, which also threaten economic sustainability, is to eliminate the trade-off between the fishing industry's short-term economic gains and its long-term social and environmental harm.

      To improve the incentive structure, the paper suggests creating harvest rights through catch shares, cooperatives, or territorial use rights for fisheries (TURFs).


      The UN bases all of its development initiatives on the three pillars of sustainability. The United Nations' plan now incorporates the Sustainable Development Goals. The U.N.'s goals have come under fire for being too simple, which has led to claims that they are insufficient, impractical, or altogether useless. Some contend that each U.N. goal would be more successfully attained if it focused on a single pillar.

      But when all three pillars are taken into account, the public's perception of the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals shows that the organisation is succeeding in fulfilling its objectives. In actuality, comments from the general populace revealed that each pillar was distributed pretty evenly in the U.N. goals.

      Since even consideration of all three pillars is necessary for proper execution of the three pillars of sustainability, public sentiments indicate that the U.N. is successfully adopting the three pillars framework to its Sustainable Development Goals.

      The Bottom Line

      Sustainability must be accounted for throughout a company's whole supply chain, from the primary level to suppliers and retailers.

      If acting responsibly gives multinational companies a competitive advantage, they may opt to reorganise portions of the global supply networks that have expanded solely based on low-cost production.

      Of course, whether or not that scenario unfolds will depend on how strongly businesses embrace sustainability and if it represents a true change in direction or is only lip service.

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