To manage things sustainably, we need to consider three inextricably linked aspects of sustainability.
Often called ‘pillars’ of sustainability – environment, social, economic – each of these aspects does not sit alone, and you can see from the diagram and the explanations below where these intersect.
Sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s about the way we use the earth’s resources in a fair way, so that the earth can replenish them, but also so all have access to these resources. Our approach must be bearable, equitable and viable.
We want things to be equitable, with all people having fair access to the earth’s resources and a chance for economic prosperity.
This must be bearable considering the earth’s carrying capacity and its regeneration ability.
And resource exploitation needs to be both economically and environmentally viable.
This means that we are living within the limits of natural resources, drawing on them only at a rate that allows healthy restoration.
Considerations include fossil fuel extraction and creation of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, mining and resource extraction, food production and agriculture, ocean exploitation, materials and resource recovery, use of toxic chemical and production of all types of emissions to the environment which are detrimental.
Achieving social sustainability ensures that social wellbeing can be maintained in the long term.
Considerations include fair labour and decent work, health and safety, diversity and inclusion, equal opportunity, human rights, security practices, indigenous rights and child protection.
We must also be very careful that in our attempt to become a ‘circular society’ we do not exclude or marginalise various sectors of society. Read more.
The economic ‘viability’ of a company, city, country is of course one way to consider its ‘sustainability’. Its ability to endure. Bringing the broader considerations of sustainable (economic) development into play, producing and operational profit so it can continue to exist must be done in a sustainable manner, using resources efficiently and responsibly. It cuts to the core of resource exploitation and operating within the limits of our natural systems. Economic sustainability can be applied by ‘buying well’. Ensuring that any spend does not make you complicit in unsustainable, destructive or unethical practices in your supply chain.
The Cultural Pillar
This fourth pillar celebrates cultural diversity and the role of cultural policy in enhancing sustainable human development, and rightly so. Culture is about creativity, heritage, knowledge and diversity – and including these aspects is vital to sustainable and thriving human development on our planet.
By including culture as a pillar you can start to build context, and obvious pathways towards a sustainable future will light up more brightly.