The 3 pillars of sustainability

Sustainability has three main pillars: economic, environmental and social. Although, they are informally referred to as people, planet and profits. As part of our sustainability month here at Business Leader, we’ve looked into the three pillars of sustainability to tell you everything need to know about them.

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Photo by Belle Co on

What is the economic pillar of sustainability?

Although for a business to be sustainable it must be profitable, the economic pillar does not mean that companies should strive for profit at any cost. On the contrary, companies that are economically sustainable practice proper governance and risk management. Profit should also not sacrifice the environmental and social pillars of sustainability.

Sometimes referred to as the governance pillar, companies practice economic sustainability by ensuring the aims of directors and management align with shareholders’ interests as well as that of the company’s community, value chains, and end-user customers.

What is the environmental pillar of sustainability?

The environmental pillar of sustainability focuses on aspects that are beneficial for the environment. This includes measures like reducing carbon footprint, water usage and the amount of waste generated. With studies suggesting that environmentally-conscious firms are more likely to attract funding, the environmental pillar forms an important part of businesses’ sustainability plans.

Another way to approach the environmental pillar is through benchmarking and reducing. Many companies with obvious environmental impacts, like mining and food production companies, employ benchmarking to quantify the aspects of their environmental impact that are difficult to track. So, that they can better track these aspects and their progress in reducing the strain they cause to the environment.

What is the social pillar sustainability?

A socially sustainable business should be supported and approved by employees, stakeholders and the community that they operate in, both locally and globally. In order to do this, companies ensure to treat their employees fairly and engage with their local community through giving to charities and volunteering, although there are various obvious ways to be socially sustainable.

Global companies might also have to take a look at their supply chain, ensuring they provide a safe work environment, pay workers fairly and do not use child labour.

Why are the three pillars of sustainability important?


Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present whilst guaranteeing the planet for future generations. The three pillars of sustainability cover social, economic and environmental impact, meaning they help to fulfil these aims in a number of important ways.

You may have noticed some similarities between the three pillars of sustainability and Environmental, Social & Governance as there is some overlap between them.

Which of the three pillars of sustainability is most important?

In light of the recent IPCC report, some would argue that the environment is the most important pillar. It’s also the most well-documented of the three. From a company’s perspective, however, they might feel economic sustainability is most important.

Ultimately, the three pillars are often intertwined, so businesses often find that prioritising one has an effect on another, so you could make the argument that they are all of equal importance. They certainly are equally important for businesses who are striving to be truly sustainable.

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