What are the Three Pillars of Sustainability?

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sustainability circle grid 3227459 1920XXX

As the world faces unprecedented economic turmoil from catastrophic weather events and a ground war in Europe, sustainability is quickly emerging as one of the defining criteria for success. Businesses must now find a way to fuse their financial ambitions with multiple commitments to society and planet Earth alike. This blog post delves deeper into this concept by exploring each pillar of sustainable business practices in detail. The 3 Pillars of Sustainability provide invaluable insight on how organizations can achieve true sustainability during these challenging times.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development recognizes three key elements of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social. With the rising awareness about its importance, more companies are striving to be as sustainable as possible in their practices. However, few understand what this entails or how it can be achieved. Herein lies an exploration into these pillars and advice on ways businesses may become greener – from the economy to our environment to society at large! So, buckle up we are about dish. And don’t forget to get the Checklist! ✅

What is the definition of the 3 pillars of sustainability?

To create a sustainable future, it is essential to consider the three pillars of sustainability: the social, environmental pillar of sustainability and the economic pillar. Unless all aspects are taken into account and integrated together, we cannot hope for successful development moving forward.

To create a sustainable future, it is essential to consider the three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental and economic. Unless all aspects are taken into account and integrated together, we cannot hope for successful development in any direction.

  • The Economic Pillar of Sustainability: The economic pillar of sustainability focuses on ensuring that sustainable economic growth is possible and economically viable. This includes managing resources responsibly, designing policies that encourage investment in renewable energy sources and promoting fair trade practices to ensure equitable access to resources and benefits.
  • The Environmental Pillar of Sustainability: The environmental pillar of sustainability seeks to protect and conserve natural resources while using them in a responsible manner. This entails reducing carbon emissions, investing in renewable energy sources, conserving water and land resources, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as implementing waste management practices that lessen the impact on air quality.
  • The Social Pillar of Sustainability: The social pillar of sustainability focuses on creating a better quality of life for all. This involves protecting human rights, promoting gender equality and diversity, providing access to basic services such as health care, sanitation and education, as well as investing in social protection programs that build resilient communities.

To support your sustainability objectives, three key facets must be unified in harmony. Think of it like a tripod. If one leg is missing, the structure will not serve its intended purpose and can even become an impediment to success. For long term growth, consider all 3 elements of the sustainable business model.

Why are the 3 pillars of sustainability important?

The 3 pillars are important in many ways. When you consider that there are 333 million companies in the world which are responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions. If they all adopt these pillars it will have a significant effect on our future. Some of the reasons why the three pillars are important include:

  • Increased energy efficiency: With the focus on renewable energy sources, businesses are encouraged to become more efficient in their use of energy. This can help reduce emissions and conserve natural resources.
  • Improved economic sustainability: By focusing on long-term planning and careful management of resources, businesses can ensure that their operations remain financially viable for the future. This helps to reduce the risk of failure and creates a more secure environment for all stakeholders.
  • Reduced impact on the environment: By employing sustainable practices, businesses can reduce their environmental footprint. This includes reducing pollutants released into the air, water and soil, as well as supporting conservation efforts in areas where they operate.
  • Increased social responsibility: When businesses adopt sustainability policies, it promotes greater responsibility to society. This includes providing fair wages, safe working conditions and respect for human rights.
  • Improved public health: By reducing environmental pollutants and encouraging healthy living practices, businesses can contribute to better public health outcomes. This can help reduce the burden of diseases caused by air pollution or water contamination.
  • And it is the right thing to do.

Overall, the 3 pillars of sustainability are important in many ways. They help to create a better future for businesses and society as a whole by promoting energy efficiency, economic stability, environmental protection, social responsibility and public health.

Who created the 3 pillars of sustainability?

The 3 pillars were originally created by the Brundtland Commission, which was convened by the United Nations in 1987. The commission’s report, “Our Common Future” outlined a vision of sustainable development. The emphasis was on “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The three pillars – environmental protection, economic stability and social responsibility – were introduced as the fundamental principles of sustainable development. Since then, they have been adopted and further developed by government bodies, businesses and other organizations around the world. The 3 pillars are widely accepted as a universal framework for guiding sustainability efforts in all areas of life.

Who uses a three pillar concept?

There are many organizations who are adopting the 3 pillars. Governments, businesses, NGOs and other organizations are using this concept in order to guide their sustainability efforts.

For example, many companies have adopted environmental management systems (EMS) in order to reduce their ecological footprint. These systems involve setting goals related to the 3 pillars of sustainability – such as reducing energy consumption or increasing the use of renewable resources – and three pillar concepts are used to measure progress.

The United Nations is also making use of the 3 pillars in their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals include targets related to poverty, health, education and climate change. Each target encourages actions related to one or more of the three pillars.

There are also variations of the theme including the 3 P’s, which stands for People, Planet and Profit. This concept is being used to encourage businesses to consider the social and environmental impacts of their operations as well as their financial returns. There is also the Triple Bottom Line, which emphasizes economic, social and environmental performance. Overall, the 3 pillars are widely used by organizations across all sectors to help guide their sustainability efforts.

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What is the most important pillar of sustainability?

This a trick question because all three pillars are equally important in creating sustainable development. Each pillar focuses on different aspects of sustainability and all are necessary for a successful outcome.

For example, environmental protection is essential to ensure that resources are managed responsibly. Economic stability is needed for long-term financial health. And social responsibility is required to ensure fairness and justice. If there is no environmental protection then resources will be depleted. If there is no economic stability then businesses will struggle to stay afloat. And if there is no social responsibility then inequality can grow and communities will suffer. All three of the pillars are necessary to achieve true sustainability. Therefore, while each pillar has its own importance, it is the combination of all three that provides the framework for sustainability to be possible.

Why are the 3 pillars of sustainability important?

The World Commission’s report, “Our Common Future” (1987) used the idea of the 3 pillars to describe the idea that sustainable development requires balancing social, economic and environmental concerns using all available information. It went on to clarify that “sustainable development requires that each of the three pillars be equally emphasized.”

The pillars defined for future generations

The 1987 report set out a definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And it still remains an influential view today. In 2016, it was updated to define sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present “in ways that are not at the expense of future generations, yet more inclusively.”

The report looks ahead to 2050 and the need for humans to live within our planetary limits. It sets out goals to be achieved through sustainable development actions. In turn this will eventually achieve environmental stability while also maintaining economic growth. Quite a vision, but completely possible if we commit to the transition!

FAQ on the 3 pillars of sustainability


What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the ability of a system to keep from being destroyed by change or events over time. In order for a system to be sustainable, all three parts must be improved and kept healthy in order to not only survive, but to thrive. If our environment collapses then our societies would be cast into chaos. If our economic systems collapse then the environment would continue to fail until it was unable to sustain us. There must be balance between all 3 pillars in order for us to achieve the first phase of sustainability.

Why is sustainability important?

The importance of sustainability cannot be understated. When you consider that in the last century the world survived two world wars, the advancement of the industrial revolution and the constant growth of global population, it becomes evident that sustainability is essential for the future of our planet. This included the introduction of coal driven factories and the burning of fossil fuels in order to power them which has released large amounts of carbon pollutants into the atmosphere.

Then consider the effect this had on the world’s populations. It created more refugees, poverty, hunger and economic downturns. This has further had an effect on the environment as deforestation for the sake of farming has led to species loss and the overuse of resources. The rapid industrialization has led to pollution of our air and water, destruction of ecosystems and a decrease in the biodiversity. It has also led to poor health conditions, poverty and an increase in climate-related disasters. Basically it has led to a way of living that is unsustainable.

What countries are demonstrating the 3 pillars of sustainability?

While things are changing fast on a country by country basis, there are a number of countries who have made efforts in demonstrating the 3 pillars. They include:

  • Germany: Germany has a history of sustainability, having implemented the first renewable energy laws in 2000 and since then, they have made impressive progress towards their goal of transitioning to a 100% renewable energy system by 2050.
  • Norway: Norway has implemented strict regulations on pollution and energy use in order to reach its sustainability goals. They have also established national parks, protected areas and other measures to conserve their natural resources.
  • Sweden: Sweden has one of the most ambitious climate targets of any country, aiming to become carbon neutral by 2045. They are also investing heavily in renewable energy and sustainable mobility solutions, as well as building efficient and eco-friendly buildings.
  • India: India has set ambitious goals for renewable energy generation with a target of 175 Gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity by 2022. They have already achieved a significant portion of this goal, largely through policy initiatives and public-private partnership projects.
  • Japan: Japan has set a goal of reaching zero emissions by 2050 and is investing heavily in renewable energy sources as well as energy storage solutions to help achieve this target. They are also developing innovative approaches to urban planning that prioritize sustainable mobility options and efficient buildings.
  • The United States: The US has recently set a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and is implementing ambitious policies to support this goal. This includes the Clean Power Plan, which sets targets for states to reduce emissions from power plants, as well as investments in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.
  • Canada: Canada has recently adopted a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and is investing heavily in renewable energy sources, energy efficiency initiatives, and public transit solutions. They are also trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels through carbon pricing systems and other climate action measures.

These countries have demonstrated that there is a long way to go in becoming sustainable, but efforts are being made. There will also be more pressure from consumer demand for responsible leadership from businesses and governments. As countries continue to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, these efforts will likely continue to increase. But do not kid yourself, we have a long way to go before we balance the negative effects of the last two centuries.

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How are the 3 Pillars important for businesses?

Surprisingly not all companies are understanding the benefits associated with transitioning to a sustainable business model. Nor the risks associated with doing nothing. If your company intends to be prosperous into the future, it will need to begin to adopt these principles.

6 benefits associated with transitioning to a sustainable business model

  1. Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty
  2. Higher brand recognition and reputation
  3. Reduced costs associated with customer service
  4. Improved efficiency in operations
  5. Lower overhead costs from investing in technology
  6. Greater access to new markets

6 Risks Associated with Not Transitioning to a Sustainable Business Model

  1. Reduced competitiveness due to failure to meet consumer demands
  2. Potential for negative public opinion and reputational damage
  3. Increased legal and regulatory risk
  4. Incorrect assumptions made about costs, timeframes, and outcomes
  5. Difficulty attracting new talent, customers, and investment
  6. Increased resource costs due to inefficient processes

By putting the three pillars at the core of their strategy, companies can create a solid foundation for success. With a customer-centric approach, businesses can ensure that every interaction is tailored to the individual customer’s needs and wants. By leveraging technology, companies can streamline operations, create more efficient processes, and reduce costs. Finally, with well-managed operations, businesses can ensure their products are delivered on time and with quality. And this is well proven, that transparent companies get better returns.

What does B Corporation status have to do with sustainability?

Businesses that pursue B Corporation status are required to meet higher standards of social and environmental impact in order to be considered a Benefit Corporation. They must also do this while they continue to grow their company or else they will not be able to keep their certification and use the B Corp name. The B Corp status was originally created so that companies could follow the 3 pillars of sustainability while also showing economic growth.

Do sustainable companies do better?

Companies that are found to be sustainable tend to do better in the long run because they are seen as responsible and will be rewarded for their efforts. This means not only increased sales and profits for the business, but more customers who feel comfortable supporting them because they are invested in the well-being of their company as well as the products and services they offer.

B Corp’s and sustainability

B Corporation status provides sustainable businesses an opportunity to place their eco-friendly practices in the market, offering consumers a way to make well informed purchases. Ultimately, this leads not only to increased sales but also improved relationships. Stakeholders benefit and it creates a stronger company reputation, as environmentally responsible approaches are appreciated by many. Investing in corporate social responsibility can work wonders for both business owners and customers alike!

What are the benefits of adhering to the 3 Pillars?

Companies have a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationships with stakeholders while at the same time enhancing sustainability. By committing resources and following through on environmental, economic and social initiatives, businesses can demonstrate that they focused on success. Not only in the short-term but also in creating sustainable value over time. Doing so is becoming more essential every quarter. Failing to invest in sustainable practices risks negative outcomes for both business operations, the bottom line and our planet alike.

Why acting in a sustainable manner is good for business

People prioritize things that matter: from their families, to the environmental future of our planet and its inhabitants. We may not be able to address every wrong done over past centuries of industrial revolution and warfare, but we can make changes moving forward. We think that people care about the quality of life for future generations, and now is the time to repair some of the damages on ecosystems and societies worldwide! It is vital for us as a species facing an uncertain future that we understand this sustainable approach moving forward.

Which of the three sustainability pillars is most important?

This is a trick question. It is like asking which leg of a tripod is more important? All three pillars are equally important because without one of them, it will be very difficult to support the weight with only two. It is most important for companies to invest in sustainable practices in order to reduce their carbon footprint and develop a better relationship with stakeholders. If companies do not make sustainable choices, it can lead to problems for both their business and the environment. See SDG and ESG.

What is a simple definition of sustainability?

The simple definition: Sustainability means meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Author Bio

Research & Curation

Dean Emerick is a curator on sustainability issues with ESG The Report, an online resource for SME’s and Investment professionals focusing on ESG principles. Their primary goal is to help middle market companies automate Impact Reporting with ESG Software. Leveraging the power of AI, machine learning and AWS to transition to a sustainable business model. Serving clients in the United States, Canada, Uk, Europe and the global community. If you want to get started, don’t forget to Get the Checklist! ✅