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The Three Pillars of Sustainability

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Sustainability has become more and more relevant in the everyday life of individuals.

How do we know how sustainable we are? The answer is: focus on your pillars.

Sustainability has become more and more relevant in the everyday life of individuals. Although we have had an important development in humanity from the industrial revolution to the latest technological advances, it has also been shown that there are other factors that are not quantifiable but that have great relevance when facing the future.

Sustainability is based on this premise. According to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Under this scenario of achieving sustainable development, the need to integrate environmental policies and development strategies (in their economic and social components) was raised, thus generating the ‘three dimensions’ or ‘three pillars of sustainability’.

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

These three pillars reflect the importance of having a balance in the system for each of these aspects. You cannot have high profits when you are not providing good living conditions for human beings, who in turn are impacted by the imbalances in the environment. Therefore, the interconnectedness of these three dimensions is critical to the sustainability of our system for future generations.

The environmental aspect refers to the planet’s natural resources and the balance that must exist between the use of these resources by individuals, society or companies for the normal development of planet earth.

Brazil nut harvest, Castañero project, Peru. Courtesy: BAM

The economic pillar highlights the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, which seeks social welfare through companies that are socially responsible. Finally, the social approach seeks to ensure that the living conditions of people under aspects such as education and health are sufficiently robust to maintain cohesion among the population and its stability.

The priority today is to establish a development model that meets these three pillars. This need arose from several scenarios in which large corporations made profits at the expense of natural resources that in turn negatively impacted society. One such example relates to the oil and gas industry, which is the most controversial in environmental terms.

One of the most memorable environmental catastrophes is the 2010 oil spill on one of British Petroleum’s platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. It is believed that in 87 days almost 800 million litres of crude oil were dumped into the ocean.

Courtesy : BBC

According to Greenpeace, the BP oil spill is believed to have caused long-term damage to the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, and to have irreversibly altered the ecosystem in the area. The Gulf of Mexico is the natural habitat of hundreds of species, and some five million migratory birds pass through the region each year. This threatened area is also considered a staging area for 70% of US waterfowl, including the Brown Pelican, the official state bird of Louisiana.

From a social and economic point of view, 11 people died and it is estimated that this catastrophe could have repercussions on food consumption due to the possibility of containment, which had an impact on the thousands of businesses that survived on this source of income. According to ORG Ocean Futures, this region produces 80% of US oysters, 69% of shrimp, and 26% of blue crab. Fishing closed, tourism and recreation stopped and all those whose livelihoods depended on a healthy marine ecosystem in the Gulf, particularly the fishing and tourism industries such as sport fishing, tours, and seafood restaurants, were subject to a complete economic loss. Against this background, initiatives have been promoted to achieve not only sustainable development based on these three pillars but also more environmentally friendly policies.

This is how the United Nations proposed the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as Global Goals, which were adopted by all Member States in 2015 as a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

On the other hand, there are also environmental initiatives such as the Paris Agreement, which is known as the first global commitment to fight the climate crisis.

In 2015, 195 countries and the European Union signed a single agreement that aims to keep global warming below 2°C (3.6°F) in contrast to pre-industrial levels, even 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Countries that originally signed the Paris Climate Agreement. Source: Business Insider

These are some of the initiatives that have been put forward at the global level in order to achieve sustainable development in which the three pillars are interconnected. These three dimensions are key to generating clear mechanisms for action to ensure that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the capacity of future generations.

However, we must remember, that whether as countries, companies and individuals, we are all part of the ecosystem, and we must do our part to erase our carbon footprint too. You can start by calculating your emissions.

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