The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Sustainability

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All life on Earth and industrial activities depend on natural resources such as food, water, plants, and minerals. Due to the destruction of these sources as a result of human activity like deforestation, pollution and fossil fuels, environmental activists are urging organizations and countries to be more sustainable.

However, what exactly is meant by the term "sustainability"? 

According to the United Nations (UN), sustainability is defined as actions and methods that ensure that present and future generations can meet their needs.

To achieve these goals, environmental scientists view sustainability as having three (3) pillars or key areas: environmental, social, and economic.

Environmental sustainability is involved consuming natural resources at a sustainable rate so that the environment can naturally replenish itself. 

Economic sustainability is related to using resources efficiently so businesses can produce an operational profit and sustain their activities in the long term.

Social sustainability is achieved when citizens' lives are improved and communities can be maintained long-term. 

Human activities have direct or indirect impacts on the environment, economy, or society.

For instance, the lumbar industry depends on the extraction of trees, which directly affects a country's economy and environment. Moreover, individuals such as carpenters depend on these resources to create end-products such as furniture, but deforestation can result in flooding.

Organizations and countries can only achieve sustainability if these three (3) pillars are in harmony.

However, due to policy inefficiencies, most organizations are only able to satisfy two of the three pillars:

  • Equitability is achieved if systems protect society and the economy.

  • Bearable measures protect society and the environment.

  • Viable policies protect the economy and environment.

You may be wondering, "Are we able to achieve sustainability?" 

Yes! Sustainability can be achieved if economists, environmental activists, and humanists work together to create policies and if individuals and organizations seek to be more eco-conscious to maintain the health of natural landscapes and resources (environmental), stimulate financial growth and foster economic prosperity (economic), and promote communities and maintain social identity (social).

For instance, by reducing energy use and expanding public transit options, communities can generate jobs, which increases economic growth, and lessens vehicular traffic, leading to increased workplace productivity. Moreover, mass transit systems increase the mobility of communities and reduce the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel, which results in byproducts such as carbon monoxide that harm human health and cause climate change.

According to the author, Robert Swan, "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

In brief, sustainability improves the quality of our lives, protects our ecosystems, and preserves natural resources for future generations.


Britannica Kids. (n.d.). Sustainability.

MyWaste. (2020, November 18). Understand the three pillars of sustainability. myWaste.

Patterson, N. (2022, April 22). What is environmental sustainability? Goals with examples. Southern New Hampshire University - On Campus & Online Degrees | SNHU. 


Article By: Mhea Bardouille