In our previous blog, we talked about the three pillars of sustainability - Environmental, Social, and Economic Sustainability. In this article, we will explore how these three pillars will help in achieving sustainability in the 21st Century.
Of the three, the environment is the most obvious and the most massive system when we think about sustainability. Why?
One, we are surrounded by natural resources which make up our home planet’s ecosphere. Two, this environment system supports the social and economic pillars, just like how the physical planet sustains life. In other words, when we lower the loading capacity of the environment, then there is less production by the economic system, and the public welfare delivered by the social system would also be lower.
Herman Daly, a prior senior economist at the World Bank, proposed that the harvest rates of renewable resources should be equal to regeneration rates (sustained yield). He added that the emission rates should equal the natural assimilative capacities of the ecosystem into which the emission of waste occurs. Furthermore, in the case of non-renewables, their exploitation should be "in a quasi-sustainable manner by limiting their rate of depletion to the rate of creation of renewable substitutes." For corporations, environmental stewardship and innovative energy conservation initiatives would help drive the success of the company. Strategies that help in lowering pollution, saving natural resources and optimizing and enhancing operation processes with little or no external emissions are effective in achieving environmental sustainability.
Social sustainability, the second pillar, is a very important component in order to ensure a community’s social well-being in the long term. Mainstream debates regarding sustainability tend to focus on environmental and economic sustainability while social sustainability is left neglected. Social sustainability, as argued by Social Life, is “a process for creating sustainable, successful places that promote wellbeing, by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. Social sustainability combines design of the physical realm with design of the social world— infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement and space for people and places to evolve.”
From a business perspective, corporations can ensure social sustainability by following fair labor practices such as providing safe and healthy working environments, paying fair wages, ensuring diversity in the workplace, and encouraging employee engagement. Corporations taking action to achieve social sustainability may help to unlock new markets, new business partners or even be a source for innovations.
A few practices that can help achieve social sustainability in a community include:
- Ensuring inclusive and resilient societies where all citizens have the opportunity to voice their concerns and the government respond
- Creating equal opportunities for all people and addressing deep-rooted systemic inequalities
- Empowering communities to be drivers of their solutions for growth and poverty reduction
Economic sustainability refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without having a negative impact on the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community.
Nowadays, businesses and corporations recognise the fact that the viability of a business depends on ecosystems being healthy such as access to productive land, fresh water and the stability of societies. This fact is even more true in the case of businesses that are directly dependent on natural resources. If the resources run out, the company will not survive in the long term. Hence, it is necessary to ensure a sustained supply of natural resources. Additionally, sustainable and innovative technologies create new job opportunities, which lead to the building of the economy. Moreover, businesses that use sustainable materials in their supply chain, from production to packaging, are winning the hearts of customers who are now increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability. Furthermore, business practices that do not create social and environmental issues would be successful in the long run.
In conclusion, the measures that we implement in our daily lives, whether at home or on the work front, need to address each of the three pillars in order to truly be sustainable.
- Califano, J. (2020, December 17). The Three Pillars of Sustainability. Temboo. Retrieved April 28, 2021
- Daly, H. E. (1990, April). Toward some operational principles of Sustainable Development. Ecological Economics, 2(1), 1-6. Retrieved April 28, 2021
- Woodcraft, S., Hackett, T., & Caistor-Arendar, L. (2011). Design for social sustainability: A framework for creating thriving new communities. Young Foundation.
- Karbassi, L. (n.d.). Social Sustainability. United Nations Global Compact. Retrieved May 1, 2021
- Sivaraman, A. (2020, September 2). Five things you need to know about Social sustainability and inclusion. The World Bank. Retrieved May 1, 2021
- Office of Sustainability (n.d.). University of Mary Washington. Retrieved May 1, 2021