The Three Pillars of Sustainability

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

Sustainability: The balance between the people, environment, and economy

Generally speaking, sustainability is the ability to maintain a process over time.

The most quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, which defines sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

But the theory is much deeper than that. Sustainability is the model where all species can safely coexist!

So, what does sustainability really means?

The concept dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries when forestry experts Evelyn and Carlowitz introduced the concept of sustainable yield in response to the decline of forest resources across Europe.

Since then, different movements such as Social Justice and Conservationism have contributed to enriching the Sustainable Theory.

For example, the well-known term used by the UN quoted at the beginning of this article was first coined in the 1970s by Ignacy Sachs, who is credited as one of the earliest ecological economists.

Sachs worked as an advisor for the United Nations Environmental Program and was influential in promoting this growth-skeptic concept in policy circles during the 70s. Although, when he came up with such a definition, he meant to conceptualize eco-development, which isn't necessarily the same as sustainability.

Since the 80s, the term has become more and more mainstream until it became what it is today.

As you can see by now, the theory behind sustainability is broad. That's why, over the years, numerous concepts have surged that give us a framework to put sustainability into practice.

The most famous framework is the Three Pillars of Sustainability, where sustainability is described along 3 dimensions: environmental, economic and social.

The Sustainable Model - 3 Pillars of Sustainability

Despite what one might think, sustainability does not only aims toward environmental advancement. It also includes two other dimensions that seek a holistic development of our society. Recognizing that both, economic development and the happiness of people are as important as the preservation of natural resources.


1st pillar - Social Sustainability

Social sustainability refers to the human as a cared resource, creating systems that increase the quality of life. Implementing policies that improve leisure, security, and education, among others.

2nd pillar - Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability refers to the profitable production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

3rd pillar - Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is focused on the well-being of the natural ecosystems. This pillar includes water quality, air quality and the reduction of environmental stressors such as greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of the major controversies is how the economic dimension of sustainability should be addressed.

Understanding that everything is connected

The best way to achieve a sustainable mindset is to understand that everything is connected.

See how your actions affect a chain of people, even in the simplest action you can imagine, like buying a new shoe. Everything that goes into that purchase: from sourcing the raw materials, to where the shoe is made, to who will be the person who creates the shoe and how much it will earn, going to understanding how that shoe gets to you and why.

By taking into account people, the environment and profitability when making our decisions, we will be able to have a planet that will sustain itself for the years to come.



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