The Three Sustainability Pillars Explained!

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Sustainability

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Sustainability is frequently misunderstood as simply environmental sustainability; nevertheless, it is much more than that, and the three pillars of sustainability are the critical framework for understanding it! Furthermore, adhering to these three key components provides for better resource stewardship and a lower chance of human suffering resulting from neglected areas of development.

What are the Three Pillars of Sustainability?

The three pillars of sustainability are society, environment, and economy, initially highlighted in the Brundtland report in 1987. Sustainable development is founded on those three pillars because it can only be realized when safeguarding the environment, social equality, and financial viability coexist without one taking precedence over the others. According to this definition, the three pillars of sustainable development interact simultaneously.

Three Pillars of Sustainability

1. The Environmental Pillar of Sustainability

The environmental pillar of sustainable development includes rules, legislation, and other tools for dealing with ecological facts and issues such as land, freshwater, the seas, forests, air, natural resources, and wildlife management. This pillar entails direct environmental management, such as planting and protecting oxygen-producing trees, as well as adopting measures on the human-consuming side.

Environmental management entails using ecological science and conservation biology to manage the distribution of resources such as land, water, and emissions at a high level to establish a sustainable future. This method also considers ecosystem resilience and the ability of ecosystems to absorb disruptions induced by human activity.

The other method is to manage the demand side of human-generated resources. This includes stuff like:

  • Energy Consumption: encouraging the use of renewable energy sources and boosting efficiency.
  • Waste Management: shifting away from a linear approach (in which materials end up in a landfill) and towards a circular path in which recycling is used as much as possible to maximize its benefits.
  • Food: supporting more nutritious and sustainable diets that use fewer animal products, such as the Mediterranean or Japanese diets.
  • Freshwater: efficiency is enhanced through infrastructural upgrades and new green technologies, particularly in agriculture. Managing demand through educating the public on using this precious and finite resource.
  • Lower CO2 Emissions: by increasing the use of renewable energy, improving efficiency, and adopting innovative technology.
  • Population: Statistics show that the poorest parts of the world account for most of the global population growth. At the same time, the people of the wealthiest countries stay generally stable or slightly declining. Encouraging equality and improved living conditions for people with low incomes is not only moral, but it can also help to reduce the world population increase.
  • Cities: appropriate urban space and infrastructure planning can assist in attaining more sustainable lives.

These are only a few examples of environmental sustainability. Fortunately, as ecological consciousness grows, we may find more and more of these instances in our daily lives, helping to lessen our environmental impact.

2. The Social Pillar of Sustainability

Initiatives, governmental policies, plans, and legislation promoting social issues are called the social pillar. Defending poverty, social justice, peace, fostering diversity, quality of life, availability of medical care, schooling, building communities, preserving culture and heritage, and various aspects of religion are among them.

Unfortunately, this is the least defined and understood compared to sustainability’s ecological and economic pillars. The social component, on the other hand, influences all human actions and, as such, is inextricably tied to the economic and environmental dimensions of long-term sustainability and development that are sustainable.

More specifically, the following are the main features of this sort of sustainability:

  • Peace, Security, and Human Rights: These are critical components of social sustainability because wars, crime, and unethical practices waste valuable resources in destructive activities and are also harmful to the environment in the long run. Consider all the pollutants released into the environment due to wars or unethical factory practices.
  • The Social Principle Emphasizes Access to Healthcare: Many health-related issues are intertwined with the environment and the economy in general. For example, green advancements in agriculture also improve health-related concerns. Lastly, the World Health Organisation believes achieving sustainability requires addressing health-related concerns.
  • Poverty and Social Justice: Poverty and a lack of social justice prevent societies from planning long-term, diminishing human well-being and harming the environment.
  • Religion and Culture Have an Impact: Cultural sustainability is concerned with beliefs, religion, and legacy preservation. Cultural characteristics are one of the forces that might contribute to ensuring sustainable development. In this regard, recent years have seen some significant religious contributions that have contributed to drawing more focus to the topic, with both the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis advocating for more responsibility in battling ecological degradation and safeguarding ecosystems.

3. The Economic Pillar of Sustainability

The economic pillar of sustainability is critical to the business’s existence: a company must be economically viable to be sustainable. At the same time, a profitable business should view profitability as one component of its overall strategy. In other words, “profit” could also refer to the economic pillar of sustainability. A responsible business leader aiming for sustainability should promote a more balanced culture in which social and environmental considerations are considered alongside profitability and economic sustainability. It is critical to remember the planet’s resource limits, especially given that the current economic paradigm is still built on “infinite” exponential development.

Unfortunately, the limited resources available in the environment are frequently overlooked: this is the fundamental issue encountered when attempting to establish long-term economic sustainability. Long-term economic expansion is impossible if all accessible natural resources are depleted.

The capitalist system founded on the free market is a fantastic weapon for lowering the living standards of Western nations; however, this does not consider our planet’s constraints, or, more accurately, it is only once it is too late. For example, a firm that uses resources that are not renewable or even an open-pit mining operation is penalized, and the damage done is somehow passed on to the collective; as a result, the price of their final product is unaffected by their unsustainable procedures. The company needs an immediate economic incentive to adopt more sustainable practices.

One solution is to employ government rules to include the cost of environmental damage in the pricing. This can be accomplished by taxation and incentives: the government can tax unsustainable practices, such as emissions or excessive trash discharged into the environment, while subsidizing more virtuous enterprises.

Another research issue is the possibility of divorcing economic expansion from environmental damage. As a result, GDP growth only sometimes implies an increase in strain on biodiversity and natural systems. This, of course, necessitates taking a longer-term view of economic activity and harnessing current technology. Still, at the moment, while doable in some circumstances, it isn’t easy to achieve on a global scale.

Why Are The Three Pillars of Sustainability Important?

The term “sustainability” is frequently used with environmental preservation projects. Initially, it referred to three distinct sectors known as all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic. The three sustainability pillars are essential for better understanding sustainability and how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle; these are used as a reference to build other models, such as the six Rs of sustainability. The three pillars of sustainability are significant because they provide a framework for assessing the sustainability of an organization, business, product, or service. This can also assist the organization’s operational costs in the long run.

The Three Pillars of Sustainability and ESG

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, a relatively new standard used by a rising number of institutional investors to assess the sustainability efforts of firms and governments. The three sustainability pillars are critical for ESG since they form the framework’s foundation used to generate ESG investment indicators. While earlier models primarily considered a company’s economic performance, ESG evaluation considers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and financial. This means that a company will be evaluated on more than just its balance sheet but also its long-term sustainability of the three pillars. Gender diversity, job equality, how the company manages its carbon footprint, the use of energy from renewable sources, safety concerns, management sustainability promises, and much more are all part of this. As you might expect, ESG is also essential for green technology startups and companies seeking funding from institutional investors.


Sustainability is frequently divided into three main groups: social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. These three sustainability types are collectively called the “three pillars of sustainability.” The three pillars of sustainability give a framework for addressing complex sustainability concerns such as fisheries management. The three pillars are significant because they aid in understanding sustainability and serve as a model for standards and certifications to assess the sustainability of organizations, countries, products, and services. More broadly, the triple bottom line model can be applied whenever we want to determine the long-term sustainability of virtually anything! When doing so, it is critical to determine whether the three pillars are in balance or whether one is overly dominating. To attain sustainability, all three principles must be met.


Q1. Who created the three pillars of sustainability?

The Brundtland Report, Agenda 21, and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development have all been cited as the origins of the ‘three-pillar’ concept.

Q2. What are the five P’s of sustainability?

The 17 SDGs are organized around the five pillars of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships. These 5 Ps demonstrate how the SDGs are an interconnected framework rather than a collection of individual goals.

Q3. What is the purpose of sustainability?

Sustainable living practices help reduce pollution while conserving natural resources such as water and electricity. Businesses and individuals who care about sustainability are also less likely to infringe on the natural habitats of wild animals, helping to maintain our planet’s biodiversity.

Also Read: Food System Sustainability: Need For Change In Food Systems



  • Dr. Tanushree Kain

    Tanushree is a passionate Environmentalist with a Doctorate in Environmental Sciences. She is also a Gold medalist in Master of Science (M.Sc), Environmental Sciences. She has 6 years of experience as a guest faculty in Environmental Sciences. With her combination of technical knowledge and research expertise, she can create clear, accurate, and engaging content that helps users get the maximum information regarding environmental topics.

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