What are the six factors of sustainability?
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What Are the Six Factors of Sustainability, and How Can We Adhere to Them?

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Mar. 12 2021, Published 2:36 p.m. ET

Without environmental sustainability, everything else falls apart. Given the state of humanity today, achieving even some degree of sustainability is not an easy task. To do so, we must first understand the implicit wisdom behind the six factors of sustainability.

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What are the six factors of sustainability?

Sustainability is important to every living thing on this planet and it seems as though everyone (businesses, in particular) has a different idea as to what sustainability really means. Some break this process down into three pillars of sustainability, others discuss it as 12 practices, and many surmise that sustainability can be broken down into six distinct factors. According to Repsol, these are the six factors of sustainability:

six factors of sustainability
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Climate change

There is a reason that climate change appears first on so many lists about sustainability. Climate change is perhaps the greatest crisis affecting our planet today. It stems from one major cause, namely, the gradual warming of the planet due to greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels

The results of it are a shift in climate and weather patterns across the globe. Devastating wildfires, frequent, destructive tropical storms, heretofore unseen heat waves, and rising sea levels are just a taste of the destructive power of climate change. What does all this have to do with sustainability, you ask? As always, the onus for fixing the current trend is put upon us, humanity. 

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We caused the problem to begin with, so the only way to truly fix it is to shift away from destructive and dwindling fossil fuels to something more sustainable. These things could be renewable forms of energy or electric/hybrid vehicles. 

six factors of sustainability
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Environment

Environmental sustainability might be defined as how well we preserve the sanctity of our environment. This could mean developing more sustainable methods of procuring and using tangible natural resources like wood, metal, or water, as well as more ephemeral resources like electricity. This factor is all about moderation as a species. We need to curb our unchecked consumption of natural resources in order to be more sustainable. 

People

Human nature does not intrinsically allow us to be sustainable, but that does not mean that it is not within our power to be so. If we, as individuals, do not strive for sustainability, if we cannot admit that we are accountable as stewards for our planet, then true sustainability will never be achieved. We must learn how to feed, clothe, and entertain ourselves using sustainable means or risk failing on all counts. 

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six factors of sustainability
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Ethics

As with the factor above, ethics is about accountability as an individual. We need to treat our planet with respect, and we need to do the same with the flora and fauna that share it with us. Things like eating a more sustainable diet and engaging in sustainable and ethical farming practices are forms of ethical sustainability. In terms of business, it might mean being more transparent about the unsustainable parts of operations and amending them to be more sustainable.

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Innovation

The last two portions of this list are key to future sustainability. As a species, we must strive towards innovations that make us more sustainable. These innovations don’t necessarily have to be technological, they can be philosophical or socioeconomic. We need to change the way we see the world and each other in order to fix the problems that many of us choose to ignore. 

six factors of sustainability
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Technology

Sustainability through technology has been our saving grace in recent years. Many countries have already begun to adopt new renewable technologies on a grand scale, replacing antiquated and polluting methods of energy production. According to the Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation, some companies have begun adopting new agricultural technological advances to help grow crops and use fewer resources. 

It’s a sign that things are changing for the better, but worldwide adoption needs to happen for our species to be truly sustainable. At the same time, technologies and practices must continue to improve. 

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Other interpretations of sustainability:

There are many other interpretations of the essential pillars/factors that create sustainability. The folks at FutureLearn believe that sustainability is separated into three pillars, rather than six factors. These pillars are represented by a Venn diagram and are defined as environmental protection, economic viability, and social equality. As with all the aforementioned factors and pillars, the three pillars must be in balance for the system to be considered sustainable. 

Manufacturers and businesses have another way of looking at things. According to Foundry, those six key factors are: optimize your current use of fossil fuels, eliminate waste, recycle, recover energy, save time, and reduce, or eliminate, pollution. These all sound great, but you can tell that they have more to do with profits and appearance than environmentalism.

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six factors of sustainability
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Regardless of the interpretation, the main goal of sustainability remains clear: if we want to save ourselves and preserve our planet, we all need to be a lot more sustainable in everything we do. According to Sustainable Friends, the definition of sustainable development is “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And that, in a nutshell, is the truth. 

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