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The Three Pillars of Sustainability

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The three pillars of sustainability aren’t as talked about as they probably should be. A clever and powerful way to explain and define the sustainability problem that we all face as humans and as a society are the three pillars of sustainability which are the only clear way to define our system and ensure the world as we know it for future generations. But what, exactly, are the three pillars of sustainability?

Through this guide, we will walk you through what the three pillars are—what is vital to know, what is useful to know, and what the big picture is of the three pillars of social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

What Are the Three Pillars of Sustainability?

The three pillars of sustainability are broken up into, you guessed it, three sections: social, economic, and environment.

Imagine you’re looking at a structure that has three pillars holding up the front of the building. If that structure didn’t have those three pillars, it would collapse. Even if that structure lost just one pillar, it would collapse. The building or structure relies on those three pillars to keep the building sturdy. Therefore, if one of those pillars (social, economic, or environment) were to be weakened in any way, sustainability as a whole would falter—and then, as a whole, the system would be considered unsustainable.

To thrive as a sustainable and stable society, these three sections (or pillars) need to be strong. It’s always important to keep this in mind, now more than ever to ensure that, in the twenty-first century, we are able to ensure the health and well-being of future generations.

The Economic Pillar

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The economic pillar represents all things economy. From consumers to consumption, this pillar represents the large population that is becoming very keen on having a high-consumption lifestyle. The best way to keep this pillar as viable as possible is to establish a system that has fair distribution and effective use of resources as a whole. Many organizations and countries are working on ways to bring about economic stability. Economic growth needs to be as balanced as possible for the other two pillars to be viable.

The Social Pillar

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The social pillar is all about being a global citizen. This pillar represents all things related to human rights: social injustice, poverty, inequality (in all shapes and forms), and many more. To make this pillar as strong as can be, a system establishing and supporting things like peace and social justice is the first step.

The Environment Pillar

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It’s said a lot but it’s worth saying again: we only have one planet to live on. Natural resources are taken for granted time and time again, and many societies forget that these resources are not as unlimited as we may think. As climate changes, natural disasters occur, and natural resources begin to run out in parts of the world, this pillar strives to support renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and recycling (among many other initiatives and ideas). Basically, keeping the earth as free from waste and pollution as possible, in order to make our system and society as sustainable as possible.

Why Are the Three Pillars of Sustainability Important?

Keeping all three pillars stable and sustainable should be the ultimate goal for all societies. However, you’d be surprised at how many well respected non-profit worldwide organizations favor stabling or strengthening one pillar over the other. While it’s always important to focus on certain pillars during certain times, all pillars should be focused on.

Focusing on, say, the economic pillar is great—but if the environment or social pillar is weakened in the process of its strengthening, it’s not a great outcome.

These three pillars also work hand in hand with each other. If the social pillar is incredibly weakened because of something like war, the economic and environmental pillars are, no doubt, going to be weakened as well. Through war, pillaging of land could occur—and the economy will likely falter or change as a result of the war. As you can see, the pillars all need to be as strong as possible and, quite often, one weak pillar can result in all of the pillars become weak—and then, the system as a whole is unsustainable.

It’s always important to analyze the three pillars of sustainability. To find a way to make the whole system strong and as sustainable as possible, the three pillars have to be strong. Therefore, there should be more emphasis on the pillars as a whole, instead of just emphasis on certain pillars during certain times.

Environment: The Big Picture

For the most part, the overwhelming pillar that encompasses all of the other pillars is the environment. If the environment pillar falters and weakens greatly, it has terrible consequences for the society and for the other two pillars.

The conditions we live in, in the very basic sense, matters. If our environment isn’t safe or is polluted beyond repair, the pillar is weakened—and so are the other pillars.

The relationship the environment pillar has with the other pillars is clear: the other pillars simply cannot survive without the environment pillar being in prime health. That’s why it’s so important to think of things like pollution, fossil fuels, and recycling. Keeping the environment stable and healthy will also keep the economic and social pillar sustainable.

By looking at the three pillars of sustainability in this way, it is easy to see that the environment pillar, and environmental sustainability, has the highest priority in this day and age. The pillars are intersected with each other and both the economic pillar and the social pillar need the environment pillar to be thriving.

As you can see, there is a lot of information regarding the three pillars of sustainability. Whether it’s the economic, the social, or the environment pillar, all three sections are important and must be stable and strong to result in a sustainable system. Finding a way to keep all three pillars as strong as can be is obviously a struggle. From economic recessions to war, these pillars are always affected negatively—and always need all the help they can get. Striving towards a sustainable system and a sustainable society is a high goal, but a goal that can be met nonetheless.


If one pillar falters, they all falter. And if the environment pillar, the pillar with probably the highest priority, becomes incredibly weakened, the economy and social pillars have no chance of keeping the structure from crashing down.

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