The Three Pillars of Sustainability

three pillars of sustainabilitySustainability is a crucial component for any large-scale plan in the world today. While the subject has always been central to the viability of any endeavor, its importance has become increasingly clear in a world without frontiers. The days in which people could count on a limitless supply of materials and manpower are long gone.


What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a factor that undermined many cultures in the past. It has taken thousands of years, however, for people to learn the lessons of these now defunct societies. Barren landscapes of many regions around the world are evidence that even stone-age people, with their primitive tools and small population, could exploit their surroundings to such an extent that collapse was inevitable.

The results of these collapses are always ugly. When leaders at every level of society fail to consider certain limits that surround them, they invite disaster. To prevent collapse, three particular pillars of sustainability must be respected for a modern industry to continue operations indefinitely.

The Three Pillars

Many people are at least familiar with a term surrounding one of the pillars of sustainability. The concept of environmental sustainability has been taught in schools for some time now. Most people are beginning to understand that governments, businesses and other organizations must take into account the environmental limits of their surroundings. Furthermore, they must plan for their operations to use natural resources at a rate equal to or less than the rate at which the environment can resupply them.

This is not, however, the only critical pillar of sustainability. Even the most perfectly organized effort, which respects the limits of the environment, is doomed to fail if it does not also respect the other two pillars of sustainability: the economic and the social pillars of sustainability.

If a business focuses entirely on environmental sustainability, it will most likely fail. Businesses must make profits in order to create jobs and provide goods and services to the populations that they serve. Protecting economic sustainability means protecting businesses’ needs and environmental limitations simultaneously.

All levels of society must also consider the social or political sustainability of operations. Many troubled industries in countries around the world are proof of the importance of social sustainability. When a company fails to respect the social needs of the community around its business centers, it can expect problems. It is important that corporations invest in their own social responsibility by furthering the interests of the public with regards to labor rights, human rights and corporate governance.

All Pillars Must Work Together

The past has shown that it is not enough for any organization to find one way to operate within certain limits. Ultimately, the needs of the environment, the business and the public are all intertwined. Sustainability is a quest for the long-term survival of communities, businesses and the ecological systems that surround them and nourish them.

Modern Efforts to Achieve Sustainability

While there are a number of small and large scale efforts to achieve success in these three areas, the UN Millennium Development Goals offer an excellent example of a promising work in progress. In the year 2000, world leaders did more than make vague pledges about organizing efforts in order to improve human life on the planet. They committed to clear goals regarding sustainability issues impacting the lives of billions of people.

With regard to environmental issues, UN leaders agreed to reduce biodiversity loss. By 2010, they had increased the amount of protected areas around the world by 58%. In terms of social sustainability, they agreed to improve significantly the lives of at least 100 million people dwelling in slums by 2020. They exceeded this rate of improvement and they continue to improve the lives of slum dwellers today.

Economic sustainability is one of the key underpinnings of the agreements in the Kyoto Protocol. While these agreements seemed to pertain to environmental issues, the issue of carbon credits was issued to help safeguard economic sustainability. Instead of simply limiting emissions, world leaders promoted reducing emissions with an incentive for businesses that could afford paying for them.  Thereby allowing industrialized nations to meet emission standards while aiding  under-developed nations financially.

There is only one road we should follow in the future. And that is the road that is paved with all three unbreakable stones of sustainability.

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