What are the three pillars of sustainability?
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What Are the Three Pillars of Sustainability, and How Do They Impact Our Daily Lives?

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Mar. 12 2021, Updated 11:08 a.m. ET

The concept of sustainability isn’t usually discussed in the abstract — most of us who attempt to live sustainably do so by changing our mindset, and by adopting eco-friendly practices. However, to look at the entire concept of sustainability from a philosophical, sociological, and scientific standpoint, we use the three pillars of sustainability

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But how do the pillars of sustainability impact our daily lives? Keep reading for more on this seriously fascinating concept.

three pillars of sustainability
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What are the three pillars of sustainability?

The pillars of sustainability is a rather intricate topic — in order to understand something as abstract as such, we first need to define them. There are several schools of thought when it comes to defining the pillars, but according to FutureLearn, the pillars are represented by environmental protection, economic viability, and social equality. 

If you think about it in terms of a Venn diagram, you can start to understand that sustainability can only be achieved if all three pillars are balanced, and one look at our actual world will tell you that we are unfortunately nowhere near achieving it. 

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How are the three pillars interconnected?

As previously mentioned, the three pillars are interconnected at the root of sustainability, and the systems represented within each sphere of influence are similarly connected. However, balance does not always mean equal, and in this case, one piece of the puzzle might be more important than the others. 

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According to Thwink, the biosphere, aka the environment itself, is the most important of them all — by protecting the environment, we're protecting our own future. Regardless of the social or economic systems in place, neither can exist if there is no environment for them to exist, and thus, environmental protection must be the first pillar that’s brought into balance. Without it, the others would fall. 

three pillars of sustainability
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Defining the Environmental Protection pillar:

As you have seen, there are many reasons why Environmental Protection sits at the top of the three — when push comes to shove, environmental protection enables our planet to exist. Recycling, adopting renewable sources of energy, and cleaning up pollution are all pieces of the environmental puzzle. All of these actions are meant to maintain global homeostasis. 

According to Investopedia, this pillar influences the other two pillars directly. The climate, rainforests, oceans, polar ice caps, and every other natural piece of the planet must be brought to or kept in balance, in order for the other pillars to prosper. 

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three pillars of sustainability
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Defining the Economic Viability pillar:

In economic terms, the Economic Viability pillar looks to businesses and companies, to minimize their own environmental footprint. They are working to become more sustainable, waste less water, find ways to reuse and recycle materials, and invest in renewable energy or clean technology. At the same time, businesses that still use fossil fuels or those that choose not to engage in eco-friendly farming practices throw the other pillars out of balance. 

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Economic viability is the second pillar because, without the economy, there is no society. Just as there is no economy without the resources provided by the natural world. In order to remain economically viable, businesses and world economies must learn to be more sustainable.

Defining the Social Equality pillar:

In social terms, sustainability relates to several concepts: one’s personal journey to sustainability and the sociological one. As individuals, we have the power to make eco-friendly changes in our daily lives. We can choose to live a vegan or zero-waste lifestyle, drive a clean vehicle, recycle, and eschew chemicals or materials that are harmful to the environment. From a societal standpoint, the quest for balance is harder. 

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Social equality is harder to nail down. We don’t usually think of social justice in terms of environmental protection, but we should. Over the centuries, social problems like autocratic rule, food shortages, and war have all been solved by changes to the social norm. In that way, fixing the existing social problems we have, things like overpopulation, poverty, and social injustice, could ultimately help us fix environmental ones and vice versa. 

According to Thwink, the catalyst for such a change could be found in new technology, just as it was in times before. Many eco-friendly inventions have already led to positive changes in sustainability, so the practical application of the three pillars is already in the works. 

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three pillars of sustainability
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To reiterate, the three pillars of sustainability is clearly an abstract concept, but that does not mean that they are outside of our control. If anything, the practical application of these concepts is firmly in our own hands, as is the fate of our world. 

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