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Sustainability is often broken down into three or four distinct areas, known as the pillars of sustainability:


  • Human, or Societal Sustainability

  • Social Sustainability

  • Economic Sustainability

  • Environmental Sustainability


To put sustainability into practice, and to think more holistically, one needs to understand how all areas intersect and work together.

Human/Societal Sustainability

This pillar focuses on nurturing and developing the human component of an organization and society at large.


Human sustainability examples include access to food, water, health care, education, justice, fair working conditions, development of skills, and respect for human rights.

Social Sustainability

Social Sustainability aims to ensure the well-being, cohesion, equality, and development of society by creating inclusive infrastructure, products, and services that can benefit the community at large.


The social pillar of sustainability focuses on peace, improving social relationships, inclusivity, and equality. Preserving regional culture (cultural sustainability), and promoting honesty, and reciprocity within the local and global community.

Good Social Sustainability looks like...

  • Fostering a good quality of life and ensuring basic needs are met for all members of society at the individual, group, and community level (health, housing, education, employment, resource security, and safety)

  • Providing equitable opportunities and outcomes for all members.

  • Promoting and encouraging diversity.

  • Creating systems and structures that support connectedness within and outside the community.

Economic Sustainability

This pillar focuses on the efficient use of resources to improve profitability and achieve financial growth to improve the standards of living. 

This however should not happen by neglecting the other areas of sustainability, there should instead be a synergy to create prosperity without negatively impacting people, society, and the environment.

Good Economic Sustainability looks like...

  • Inventing better and more useful products for the population that, rather than having little-to-no negative impact on the environment, have a positive one.

  • Aligning lending and investment policies with sustainability goals.

  • Quantifying ecosystem services—measuring the value of natural environments and the benefits they provide—and incorporating them into value chain indexes.


Environmental Sustainability

Perhaps the most discussed pillar - environmental sustainability.

This pillar aims to improve the well-being of current and future generations by preserving the environment and making more rational use of natural resources.


Good Environmental Sustainability looks like...

  • Protecting and enhancing our natural and developed environment—our water quality, air quality, and reduction of environmental stressors, like greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Improving biodiversity.

  • Using natural resources wisely.

  • Minimizing waste and pollution.

  • Adapting to and helping to decrease climate change.


True sustainability occurs when all pillars are balanced—when they interact with one another in a consistent, committed effort.

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