The three pillars of sustainability are; social acceptability, environmental compatibility, and economic viability.
In some studies, four (4) pillars of sustainability are identified to include; human, social, economic and environmental aspects.
This article discusses the three pillars of sustainability and their importance, as follows;
1). Social Acceptability (as one of the Three Pillars of Sustainability)
The social pillar of sustainability is a core aspect that focuses on how the human society can utilize its resources and develop its policies in such a manner that insures equity and quality of life, both at the present, and in the future.
Social principles of sustainability propose that the development of human society is only sustainable, when it does not compromise the rights to equity and quality living, of any sociocultural or geographical group of people.
They (the social sustainability principles) therefore encourage diversity and inclusion in all endeavors that are for the society, in addition to efforts to improve the general wellbeing of individuals.
Concepts that explain the social sustainability concept include; environmental justice, gender equality, and socioeconomic equity. While some of these terms are generally over-emphasized in modern discussions, there is still significant work to be done in order for the actual ideologies behind them to be implemented in a manner that is free of malicious bias, or political manipulation.
Examples of the relevance of social acceptability as a pillar of sustainability, can be observed in technological development, where innovation can only be considered sustainable if it does not threaten the survival and wellbeing of any group(s) of people .
Discussions regarding this area of social sustainability are fairly common in the twenty-first century, with the advent and advancement of technologies and fields like artificial intelligence and robotics; which are equipped to perform human functions with a significant level of efficiency and accuracy.
Other concepts that are discussed under the social pillar of sustainability include; public health, law enforcement, work safety, employment, volunteerism, communal cooperation, food security (or insecurity), stakeholder participation, democracy, social group-empowerment, human rights, and philanthropy.
When assessing social acceptability as a pillar of sustainability, terms like social responsibility, cohesion and equity can be used.
2). Environmental Compatibility
The environmental pillar of sustainability is a core aspect of sustainable development which focuses on how the ecosystem is affected by human socioeconomic activities.
Basically, the concept of environmental compatibility is concerned with mitigating the (negative) environmental impacts of social and economic development, to bring then to the barest minimum.
The concept of material conservation addresses how inorganic raw materials, biomass, and water conservation can be achieved. Energy conservation focuses on energy resources, with special emphasis on non renewable ones.
Conserving resources is a sustainable objective that links the environment, economy and society in a seamless manner.
For example, energy conservation is a core aspect of green economy, environmental management, and public health protection. It sheds light on agendas like the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean, green and renewable energy options. It also highlights how effects of unclean energy resources (such as air pollution) can affect human health and economic productivity.
Environmental remediation, ecosystem preservation and hazard mitigation, all highlight the need for sustainability of environmental systems; in terms of preventing, mitigating and reversing various forms of environmental degradation, like climate change and pollution.
Such issues as climate change are viewed as outcomes of social conditions and behaviors, and in sustainable development, effort is made to alter these conditions and behaviors in a manner that protects the environment .
Ecosystems like forests and grasslands are a crucial focus of environmental compatibility efforts, which try to minimize how human activities and their outcomes like urbanization and energy development; affect these natural habitats .
The goal of synergizing human socioeconomic development with the environment, has led to the introduction of methods and concepts like decarbonization, recycling, carbon footprint minimization and environmental regulation.
3). Economic Viability (as one of the Three Pillars of Sustainability)
The economic aspect of sustainability is focused on how the economy (in terms of small and large businesses) can be profitable without negatively impacting the environment or society.
Economic viability in sustainable development is especially concerned with long-term economic profit . This is because implementing sustainable principles in economic development is not always accompanied by rapid, short-term profits.
A classic example of implementation of the economic pillar of sustainability is sustainable agriculture; which utilizes sustainable farming practices and principles like crop rotation, terracing, agricultural diversity, biodynamic farming, sustainable irrigation and rotational grazing, to optimize output quality while mitigating pollution, erosion, and overgrazing, among other agriculture-related problems.
While sustainable farming may not yield as much volume of instantaneous output as unsustainable farming (which may use chemical fertilizers and intensive mono-cropping to maximize yield), its long-term output in terms of crop/livestock, economic, social and environmental benefits, are much greater.
Components of economic viability in sustainable development are; economic profit, long-term continuity, resource efficiency, social benefit, and environmental impact mitigation.
Importance of the Three Pillars of Sustainability
The importance of the three pillars of sustainability is based on their potential to prolong the existence of life on Earth, without limiting biological diversification, social development and economic growth.
In other words, the three pillars of sustainability are important because they enable humans to continue modifying their environment, technologies and interactions while ensuring that these modifications do not affect the existence, survival or wellbeing of any group of biotic or abiotic resources on Earth.
The three pillars of sustainability affect each other in a co-dependent manner, so that economic development cannot occur in isolation, but must be simultaneous with environmental protection and social advancement.
The three pillars of sustainability are;
1. Social Acceptability
2. Environmental Compatibility
3. Economic Viability
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