Sustainability Definition, Facts, Aspects, and Importance Explained

pillars of sustainability

This article discusses the concept of Sustainability, touching the following areas;

1). What is Sustainability?

2). Facts about Sustainability

3). Sustainability and Energy

4). Sustainability, Waste Management and Recycling

5). Sustainability and Climate Change

6). Sustainability and Water Resources

7). Sustainability and (Conservation of) Biodiversity

8). What is Sustainability: Difference between Sustainability and Sustainable Development

9). The Pillars of Sustainability

10). Economic Sustainability

11). Social Sustainability

12). Environmental Sustainability

13). Sustainability and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

14). Conclusion



Sustainability Definition 

Sustainability is derived from the adjective ‘Sustainable’, which is used to describe anything that can be sustained, managed, maintained, or continued.

There are numerous ways in which we may describe sustainability. It is the outcome or state of being sustainable. It is also the capability to sustain or maintain anything over time.

Sustainability can be defined as a state of equilibrium in any system, whereby resources are utilized in a productive and conservative manner.

It is a term that is used to describe a condition of harmony and balance between input and output.

On Earth, Sustainability describes how humans may exist in harmony with our natural environment, such that economic development occurs without environmental degradation [15].

Sustainability in business refers to the use of resources in a manner that can be continued, profitably, over a reasonable period of time. In the area of policy development, sustainability is the ability of any policy to be implemented continuously without losses or negative consequences.


Facts about Sustainability

Sustainability and Energy

1). Incandescent light bulbs typically use only about 10 percent of their electric supply to produce light. The remaining 90 percent of electricity is often lost in the form of heat [7]

2). America has been estimated to consume at least 15 times more energy per individual than the developing nations. The region also uses up to 26 percent of all energy produced on Earth, while constituting less than 5 percent of the total human population [14]

3). Compact fluorescent light bulbs save at least 75 percent of the energy used by regular bulbs [4]. They also save about $40 per year on energy costs compared to incandescent bulbs

4). Each year, energy worth more than $13 billion is lost from houses through leaks in the building

5). In the commercial sector, 40-60 percent of energy is used by Heating, Ventilation and Cooling (HVAC) systems

6). Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs will help save at least 105 billion Euros globally, per year [12]

7). In order to limit the effects of Global Warming and Climate Change, human-induced carbon emissions will need to drop by at least 45 percent by the year 2030


Waste Management and Recycling

1). If all paper used in the United States was recycled, at least 200 million tons of wood would be saved per year [9]

2). The recycling of one ton of paper saves an equivalent of 7,000 gallons of water, 4,100 kWh of energy, three cubic yards pf landfill space, and 60 pounds of atmospheric emission [11]

3). Although the current recycling rate in the United States is only about 28 percent, at least 80 percent discarded materials in the country can be recycled

4). The equivalent of 500,000 trees, is cut down in order to produce Sunday newspapers per week [3]. Recycling these papers could save at least 250,000,000 trees on a yearly basis

5). Less than 20 percent electronic waste is recycled globally [16]. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the volume of electronic waste also rose by about 38 percent

6). At least 2.5 million plastic bottles are used in the United States every hour, most of which are discarded without recycling [1]

7). Styrofoam containers and plastic bags may take thousands of years to decompose. Within this period, they can pollute the environment, causing degradation and killing thousands of organisms

8). The United States is estimated to produce up to 40 percent of total waste on Earth [17]. This is about 1,609 pounds of solid waste per person, annually

9). A typical glass bottle produced today will take at least 4,000 years to decompose


Sustainability and Climate Change

1). In the United States. up to 60 percent of carbon emissions come from transport and housing. This is due to the consumption of large volumes of fuel on transportation, as well as heating, cooling and electricity

2). The last decade (2010-2019) contained the five warmest years ever recorded [18]

3). At least 2.4 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere in the last 170 years

4). The countries which produce the largest volume of emissions on Earth include Russia, the United States, China, India, Canada and Japan. These regions produce roughly 70 percent of emissions [2]

5). At the current rate of greenhouse emission, it is predicted that temperature rise will be up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 [5]

6). In general, energy is the highest contributor to Global Warming and Climate Change, constituting at least 60 percent of the cause

7). Cycling a distance of 10 kilometers to work will prevent at least 1,500 kilograms of greenhouse gases from entering into the atmosphere, while saving about $1,700 in transportation cost per year [8]


Sustainability and Water Resources

1). A single energy-smart clothes washer is capable of saving more water in one year than a human will drink all through his or her lifetime

2). On the average, an American family uses about 260-300 gallons of water at home daily [10]

3). A full bath equals about 60 gallons of water

4). At least 860,000 gallons of water will be saved yearly if Australians use more water-efficient products and appliances

5). In general, using water-efficient facilities will reduce water consumption rate by at least 30 percent

6). By leaking a drop of water per second, a water faucet can lose up to 165 gallons in a month

7). Although 70 percent of the Earth surface is covered by water, only about 2.5 percent of this water is fresh, and only about 1 percent of it can be easily accessed for human consumption [6]

8). The rate of water use has grown twice faster than the date of population growth within the last century


Conservation of Biodiversity

1). The rate at which deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests is about 100 acres per minute

2). Although they cover less than 7 percent of the tot land area on Earth, tropical rainforests are home to at least 50 percent of all living organisms on Earth [13]

3). The indigenous population of humans makes up only 5 percent of the total population, but conserves up to 80 percent of the global biodiversity

4). The Amazon forest produces about 20 percent of the total oxygen on Earth. It also sequesters 90-140 billion tons of carbon. Deforestation causes this carbon to be released into the atmosphere

5). At least 16,000 tree species and 400 billion individual trees occur in the Amazon forest

6). At least 50 million indigenous people inhabit forests around the world


What is Sustainability: Difference between Sustainability and Sustainable Development

While both concepts are similar, we must recognize the few differences that exist between Sustainability and Sustainable Development.

The term Sustainability is a broader term than Sustainable Development.

Sustainability is the end goal or aim, of achieving a sustainable society, while Sustainable Development is simply the process or measures involved in achieving Sustainability.

Sustainable Development is comprised of 17 goals. The main objective of these goals is to establish sustainability on Earth.

Sustainable Development includes several important issues which must be addressed in order to achieve Sustainability. These include Climate Change, Poverty, Environmental Degradation, Extinction of Biodiversity, Inequality, Illiteracy, Lack of access to Infrastructure, and Illness.


The Pillars of Sustainability

The Pillars of Sustainability, are the three fundamental areas that must be considered in the efforts to achieve a Sustainable society on Earth.

There are three Pillars of Sustainability, which namely, are;

1). Economic

2). Social

3). Environmental

pillars of sustainability
Pillars of Sustainability (Credit: KTucker 2011 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


Economic Sustainability;

Has to do with economic investments and profits. The indicators of economic sustainability include operating costs, capital costs and rate of return.

Economic Sustainability is the degree to which economic development can be maintained without any negative effects on the cultural aspects of the society, or the environment.

Alternatively, we can describe Economic Sustainability as a condition of economic equilibrium, whereby economic growth is maintained over the long-term without any negative effects on the environmental and/or social aspects of the system.

It also refers to the result of practices that support long-term economic growth, while protecting the social and environmental elements.

Economic Sustainability is focused on those components of the Earth that must be maintained in order for economic conditions in our society to be improved.

Social Sustainability;

Is mainly concerned with the human components of the Earth. It focuses on the effects and consequences of human activities on the environment, and the entire ecosystem. To achieve Social Sustainability, it is necessary to address various human problems like poverty, illness, inequality and hunger.

Social Sustainability is the degree to which social infrastructural development can be sustained, without any negative impacts on the environment or the economy.

Compared to Economic and Environmental Sustainability, Social Sustainability has been largely ignored. However, it is equally important, because it concentrates on the direct relationship between humans and the Earth.

Social Sustainability suggests that various forms of infrastructure, policy and social development, must be implemented to meet the needs of the human population in a manner that protects both the economy and the environment. 

Environmental Sustainability;

As the term implies, Environmental Sustainability is concerned with the interactions between the economy, society, and the environment. It seeks to represent how the activities of humans at all levels may affect the environment, and what this in turn may mean for the human population.

Environmental Sustainability is the extent to which the natural resources in our environment can be used without any negative effects on the human population, economy, biodiversity, or the environment itself.

By maintaining Environmental Sustainability, we ensure that our interaction with the environment is such that there is no degradation, or depletion of natural resources.

Through this approach, the quality of the environment is preserved over the long-term, and natural resources will be maintained and conserved for future generations.

Indicators which are used to measure Environmental Sustainability include the rates of pollution, resource exploitation, positive development and depletion. In order for Environmental Sustainability to be achieved, these variables are required to balance each other.


Sustainability and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic resulted in unprecedented and acute impacts and risks within the environment, society and economy.

By affecting the economy at all levels, the Coronavirus placed significant stress on the sustainability of the Earth as a whole. While the economic decline led to reduction in the volume of emissions into the atmosphere, this reduction was temporary and made little impact toward addressing Global Warming and Climate Change.



Based on the discussion so far, we may identify the following possible ways to achieve sustainability;

1). Effective Waste Management and Recycling

2). Implementation of Social, Economic and Cultural development programs

3). Use of Energy-Efficient Appliances (like LED light bulbs)

4). Development and Usage of Renewable Energy Technologies

5). Planting of Trees

6). Water Management

7). Reduction of Reliance on Diesel Vehicles



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