The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (2023)

Sustainability can often be interpreted simply as environmental sustainability, but it is much more than that, and the three pillars of sustainability are the basic framework for understanding it. But what are the three pillars of sustainable development?

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What are the three pillars of sustainability?


3 Ps of SUSTAINABILITY: Three Principles of Sustainable Development

The three pillars of sustainability are the environment, society and the economy, which were mentioned for the first time in theInform Brundtland in 1987. Sustainable development is based on these three pillars because it can only be achieved when environmental protection, social justice and economic viability coexist without one domain taking precedence over the other.

According to this definition, the 3 pillars of sustainable development work together at the same level. WhileSustainable developmentis at the intersection of 3.

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (1)
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More recently thethree pillars of sustainable developmentThey were also outlined by theUnited Nations Millennium Declarationand today represent the most popular model for assessing and understanding sustainable development.

More sophisticated interpretations also recognize that the three pillars of sustainability are not all on the same level, but that there is a hierarchy in which the economy is contained in society and society itself is contained in the environment.

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (2)

The three pillars of sustainability are often referred to as people, profit and planet. They are also known as the 3 P's of sustainability.triple result, or 3 sustainability principles.

Fortunately, today we can find manyExamples of sustainable developmentand how to achieve it.

Now let's take a closer look at these principles and the 3 pillars of sustainability examples.

The environmental pillar of sustainability

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (3)

Heecological pillarof sustainable development includes regulations, laws and other tools to deal withenvironmental factsand issues such as the management of land, fresh water, oceans, forests, air, natural resources and wildlife.

This pillar involves direct management of the environment with things like planting and maintaining oxygen production.treesand act on the human consumption side.

Environmental management involves using environmental science and conservation biology to manage the allocation of resources such as land, water and emissions at high levels to achieve a sustainable future.

This process also takes into account the resilience of ecosystems and their ability to absorb disturbances caused by human activities.

The other approach is to manage the demand side of resources that come from human activities. It handles things like:

  • energy consumption: Incentives to switch to renewable sources and improve efficiency.
  • Waste Management: Move away from a linear model (where materials end up in a landfill) and promote a circular flow where recycling is used as much as possible to benefitBenefits.
  • Essen: Promotion of a healthier and more sustainable diet, such as the Mediterranean or Japanese diet, which uses less animal products.
  • fresh water: Efficiency is improved by improving the infrastructure and using newgreen technologies, especially in agriculture. Also, manage the demand side by educating the public on how to use this precious and limited resource.
  • CO2 emission reduction: making extensive use of renewable sources, improving efficiency and migrating to new technologies.
  • Population: Statistics show that most of the world's population growth comes from the poorest areas of the planet. While the population of the richest nations is stagnating or slightly decreasing. Promoting equality and better living conditions for the poor is not only ethical, it can also help to slow the world's population growth.
  • cities: Proper planning of urban spaces and infrastructure can contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.

This are just a fewExamples of environmental sustainability. Fortunately, as environmental awareness grows, we can find more and more examples in our lives that help reduce our ecological footprint.

The social pillar of sustainability

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (4)
(Video) What is Sustainability

Hesocial pillarrefers to initiatives, public policies, planning and regulation in support of social causes. This includes things like poverty reduction, social justice, peace, promoting diversity, quality of life, access to health, education, community development,cultural sustainabilityand inheritance and some aspects of religion.

Unfortunately, this is the least defined and understood pillar of sustainability compared to the environmental and economic pillars. However, the social factor influences all human activities and, as such, is also strongly linked to the economic and ecological dimensions of sustainability and sustainable development.

More precisely, the main aspects of this type of sustainability are:

  • peace, security,and human rights are very important components of social sustainability, because wars, crimes and unethical practices not only waste valuable resources in destructive activities, but are also harmful to the environment. Think of all the pollutants that have been released into the environment during wars or through unethical manufacturing practices.
  • access to health careit is a central point of the social principle. Many health-related issues are linked to general environmental and economic issues. For example, ecological improvements in agriculture also help improve health conditions. Finally, thatWorld Health Organizationit even considers sustainability impossible without also taking care of health aspects.
  • poverty and social justice: Poverty and lack of social justice also prevent societies from making long-term plans, which ends up reducing human well-being and harming the environment.
  • Influence of religion and culture: Cultural sustainability is about preserving beliefs, religion and monuments. Undoubtedly, cultural aspects are among the drivers that can contribute to enabling sustainable development. In this context, there have been some important contributions from the religious side in recent years that have helped to draw more attention to the topic: both the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis have called for greater responsibility in the fight against environmental degradation and in the preservation of ecosystems . .

This are just a fewExamples of social sustainabilityand how they can affect human society and quality of life.

The economic pillar of sustainability

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The economic pillar of sustainability is existential for the company: a company must be economically viable to be sustainable. At the same time, a sustainable company should only consider profitability as part of the corporate strategy.

In other words, "benefit" could also be used as another term for the sustainability pillar of the economy.

Conscious corporate governance focused on sustainability should foster a more balanced culture that considers social and environmental factors alongside profitability.economic sustainability.

Keeping an eye on the limits of the planet's resources is essential, especially considering that the current economic model is still based on “infinite” exponential growth.

Unfortunately, the limited resources of the environment are often not taken into account: this is the main problem when it comes to achieving long-term economic sustainability. There can be no long-term economic growth if we deplete all available natural resources.

The free-market capitalist system is an incredible tool for ignoring the living standards of Western nations, but it doesn't take into account the limits of our planet: or rather, it doesn't until it's too late.

For example, a factory that usesnon-renewable resourcesor even aTagébauThe operation is penalized for this, and the damage caused is somehow passed on to the collective, so that the price of the final product is not affected by its unsustainable practices. The company has no direct financial incentive to adopt more sustainable practices.

One way to avoid this problem is to price environmental damage through government regulations. This can be achieved through taxes and incentives: the government can impose a tax on unsustainable practices, such as excessive emissions or waste entering the environment, while subsidizing more virtuous businesses.

Another concept examined is the possibility of decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation. This means that an increase in GDP does not necessarily mean greater pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems. This, of course, requires a long-term view of economic activity and the use of available technology, but currently, while feasible in some cases, it is difficult to achieve on a global scale.

In recent years, also thanks to increased public environmental awareness,sustainable business practicesstarted to gain more traction. This creates new opportunities for companies and corporations interested in a sustainable business model.

Today, many companies are trying to improve their brand awareness by incorporating sustainability into their business plan. It leads to something new and moreenviroment friendLeadership that, by improving the efficiency of various processes, can often improve sustainability without necessarily increasing the cost of the final product.

(Video) Sustainability explained (explainity® explainer video)

What is the circular economy?

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (6)

Hecircular economyIt is a new production and consumption model that aims to improve sustainability by promoting: sharing, repairing, renewing, reusing and ultimately recycling as much of each product as possible.

The circular economy aims to maximize the use of manufactured goods by sharing and renting them rather than owning them: essentially turning products into services. Think about how many items you own but rarely use. Wouldn't it make more sense to rent them only when needed?

Another important aspect of the circular economy is the design process. Products must be durable, easy to repair and recyclable at the end of their life cycle. For this reason, a circular economy also means a circular supply chain.

What is the difference between circular economy and linear economy? The concept of circular economy contrasts with that of linear economy. In a linear economy, all resources are extracted from the environment to produce goods that have relatively low average consumption and end up in landfills.

The aim of a circular economy is to create a closed loop in which most resources are reused through recycling and the manufactured product is used as much as possible, extending its useful life through remanufacturing and refurbishment. There will also be residual waste in the circular economy, but it will be minimal compared to a linear economy.

Criticism of the circular economy concept

There have been several criticisms of the circular economy model in recent years, let's briefly review the most interesting ones:

  • Some criticize that the circular economy still privileges continued economic growth and only tries to improve the sustainability of the current linear model without really addressing the main problem.
  • Corvellec and Hervé (2019) focus on the inevitability of waste, which somehow must be considered an inevitable by-product of life. In the circular economy, waste is seen as a sign of failure.
  • Geyer and Zink (2017) question the central assumption of the circular economy. Arguing that reuse and recycling may not prevent the production of new goods for economic reasons not contemplated in the circular economy model.
  • Perhaps the most interesting criticism comes from Korhonen, Jouni; Honkasalo, Antero; Seppälä, Jyri (2018) who argue that the circular economy model violates the second law of thermodynamics. According to this basic law of physics, all spontaneous processes seek equilibrium and lead to an increase in entropy. In other words, when trying to implement the circular economy in the real world, it will not be practical to recycle or reuse all materials. Recycling all materials would eventually require systems that use more energy than the recovered resources are worth. As a result, we will still have parts of the economy that follow the linear model.

While the circular economy concept is far from perfect or the solution to all our environmental concerns, we must still recognize that there is no excuse for not seeking greater efficiency in the way things are used and produced. In that sense, the circular business model helps us provide a framework to focus attention on optimizing product design and also reducing impact on the environment.

Why are the 3 pillars of sustainability important?

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (7)

The term sustainability is often used in connection with initiatives to protect the environment. Originally, however, it referred to 3 different areas known as the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

The importance of the 3 pillars of sustainability: The 3 pillars are helpful to better understand sustainability and lead a greener lifestyle. In fact, they are used as a benchmark to compare other models such as6 R's for sustainability.

The three pillars of sustainability are important because they provide a framework that can be used to assess the sustainability of an organisation, business, product or service. this might help tooreduce operating costsof the organization in the long term.

Finally, the 3 pillars are also used to define theGreen Technology Goals, which points the way to a sustainable future.

Sustainable development goals and the 3 pillars

The three pillars of sustainability EXPLAINED - Successful Sustainability (8)

The three pillars of sustainability are important and relevant because the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) arebased on them. Indeed, the SDG targets can also be categorized according to the three pillars.

These are the sustainability goals aggregated according to the three pillars of sustainability:

    • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
    • SDG 13: Climate protection
    • SDG 14: Life under water
    • ODS 15: And vida na terra
    • SDG 1: End Poverty
    • SDG 2: End hunger
    • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
    • SDG 4: Quality education
    • SDG 5: Gender Equality
    • SDG 6: Drinking water and sanitation
    • SDG 10: Reduction of inequalities
    • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
    • SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
    • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
    • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
    • SDG 9: Innovation and industry infrastructure
    • SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals

Certifications based on the 3 pillars of sustainability

The 3 pillars of sustainability have been used as a guide to define various common standards and certifications. These includeFair Trade, to dierain forest alliance,GLOBALG.A.P.,and UTZ certification, covering sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining.

(Video) 3 Ps Of SUSTAINABILITY: Three Principles of Sustainable Development

These certifications not only play an important role in objectively measuring compliance with sustainable business practices, but also in communicating to the consumer that items have been sustainably manufactured or produced.

In recent years, the public has become increasingly awareimportance of sustainable development, with reputational damage for companies that follow a short-sighted, purely profit-oriented approach with no concern for the environment.

This has resulted in more and more companies and businesses committing to achieve ambitious sustainability goals in the coming years. These goals range from zero emission commitments to fighting climate change to fighting for ethical manufacturing, inclusiveness and more.

the three pillars of sustainability and ESG

ESG meansEnvironmental, Social and Governanceand is a relatively new standard used by a growing number of institutional investors to rank companies and countries on their sustainability efforts.

Only when enough data is collected on these 3 areas can they be included in the list of stocks and bonds to invest in.

The three pillars ofSustainability is essential for ESGbecause they form the basis of the structure used for derivationESG Metricsfor investments While traditional models considered only a company's economic performance, the ESG assessment encompasses the three pillars of sustainability: ecological, social and economic.

This means that a company is not evaluated solely on the basis of its balance sheet, but is subjected to a broader assessment of its long-term sustainability according to the 3 pillars.

This includes things like gender diversity, equal employment, how the company manages its carbon emissions, use of renewable energy, product safety concerns, leadership sustainability commitments and much more.

As you can imagine, ESG is also very relevant tostartups and green tech companieswho wish to raise funds from institutional investors.


What are the 3 pillars of sustainability??The three main areas of sustainability are environmental, social and economic.

The 3 pillars are important because they help to better understand sustainability and also serve as a model for standards and certifications to assess the sustainability of organizations, countries, products and services.

For example, the three pillars of sustainability are used:

  • ESG when evaluating investments
  • Fair Trade Certifications
  • Rainforest Alliance-Standards
  • The 6 Rs of the Sustainability Framework for a Greener Lifestyle

In general, the triple bottom line model can be used whenever we want to assess the long-term sustainability of literally anything! It is very important to check if the 3 pillars are in balance or if one of them is too dominant, because to achieve sustainability all 3 principles must be met.

Finally, there is another more recent variant of the three pillars of the sustainability model (or3 p., o3 Sustainability), which emphasizeshuman sustainabilityfactor by adding another column. This model is calledfour pillars of sustainabilityand I wrote a separate article about it.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about sustainable development and its three pillars. I am sure that this knowledge will be very useful in your life and will help you to be more respectful of the environment.


1. What is SUSTAINABILITY? Explained By An Expert
(Go Green Post)
2. Pillars of sustainable development
(Environmental Engineering)
3. Triple bottom line (3 pillars): sustainability in business
(Sustainability Illustrated)
4. L2 #3 (AS2.10) Three Pillars of Sustainability
(DW Technology Teacher)
5. The 3 Pillars of Sustainability for a better tomorrow | Naresh Tyagi | TEDxLavelleRoadStudio
(TEDx Talks)
6. The 3 pillars of corporate sustainability | TIMESTAND THE THEORY EP.2


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