The Three Pillars of Sustainability

Maor Yur
October 28, 2019


As we’ve mentioned before, sustainability is definitely the talk of the town these days, to the degree that it may even sound like a buzzword that gets thrown around just because it sounds like what people want to hear. But if sustainability is to have an actual impact beyond just “sounding nice,” it must consider three key pillars: environmental, economic (or financial), and social.

Together, these pillars form the foundation of successful sustainability efforts and make it possible to drive true systemic change that has an effect on people, the planet, and profits all at the same time.

Let’s drill down:

The Environmental Pillar
The environmental pillar is the most obvious and straightforward one, of course—it focuses on the ability of so-called sustainability efforts to reduce the environmental impact of different processes and systems, whether that means reducing waste and pollution, conserving water and natural resources, and trying to find ways to conduct business and daily activity that do less harm than the traditional approaches. Planet Earth is the only one we have, and its conservation for future generations depends purely on our efforts—both as individuals and organizations—to protect it.

The Economic Pillar
The economic pillar focuses on the cost-effectiveness and value of sustainability efforts. As long as pursuing sustainability is significantly more expensive than legacy practices, it is likely to hit many roadblocks. Luckily, in the process of pursuing environmental efforts, many organizations are discovering that these initiatives are good for business, too. For example, by reducing water consumption in certain production processes, reusing or choosing recycled/secondhand materials, and paying closer attention to which resources are actually being used and which are being wasted (e.g., food thrown out in restaurants, electricity wasted due to machinery being left on or not operating at optimal levels), they can cut their spending and enjoy a cushier bottom line.

The good news, too, is that with increasing awareness about sustainability, the supply of sustainable options has increased, driving down prices and reducing any previous stigma that may have existed. Plus, government subsidies for sustainable activity—or, conversely, taxes and fines—add an additional level of financial incentive and moral encouragement.

The Social Pillar
The core of the social pillar centers on the concern for other humans, the community, and society. For example, if a company eliminates animal testing, but continues to use child labor, its efforts cannot be considered sustainable. The social pillar of sustainability focuses on the people involved in business and other activities and in making sure that they can live safe, healthy lives. This may include treating and paying employees fairly and offering them certain social benefits, ensuring safe working conditions, and being a good neighbor and member of society.

Together, these three pillars are what can make sustainability actionable and impactful, rather than just a buzzword or trendy concept. Just like a stool, without one of these legs, sustainability efforts will collapse.