We have already explaining what a Circular Economy is and in this article we will be explaining sustainability by answering the following questions: What is sustainability? and What are the three pillars of sustainability? Keep reading to find out the motivations surrounding sustainability to help you to #ONEUPYOURBUSINESS!
Sustainability has a broad meaning due to the world being a big and diverse place. More often, it is defined as the focus of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
Earth has a global population of 7.8 billion people, which is only going to keep on growing, with it being estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. This impacts the entire world including sectors like farming, who have to keep up the demand of producing food for the increasing number of mouths to feed. Already, across the world there is uneven distribution of consumption patterns and wealth plays an important role in sustainability, as over a third of the world still lives in poverty, having little or limited access to resources such as: energy, food, and water. Therefore, sustainability is broad, covering an array of concepts, tying into social justice, conservationism, internationalism, riches, and other past movements.
In 2010, the Academic Advisory Committee for the Office of Sustainability at the University of Alberta referred to sustainability as "the process of living within the limits of available physical, natural and social resources in ways that allow the living systems in which humans are embedded to thrive in perpetuity".
The concept of sustainability is made up of three main pillars: environmental, economic, and social (which can also be known as planet, profits, and people). Exploring the three pillars of sustainability showcases the different motivations and perceptions other people may have on the topic of sustainability because everyone has their own worldview where emotion, survival, instinct or logic can be key drivers. In the list below we will explore the three different pillars of sustainability, so you can gain a more detailed understanding on sustainability:
Environmental sustainability is to ensure that we are consuming our natural resources like land, water and energy fuels at a sustainable rate and in line with the Circular Economy Principals, to not damage the environment and use up all of its natural resources. This inspires using low-carbon resources, with many countries joining in on the Race to Zero with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere.
The environment sustainability pillar is most likely the one you're most familiar with as the UK government makes it clear their ambitions to achieve Real Zero by 2050 and businesses are focussing on reducing their carbon footprint. Packaging waste, energy usage, water usage are main topics you have probably come across with businesses. For instance, businesses are looking into the Circular Economy approach of reducing the number of materials they use by pushing back on product packaging and implementing recyclable and reusable packaging; reduce, reuse, recycle.
A challenge for the environment sustainability pillar is that the amount of carbon dioxide, water, waste, land reclamation as a few examples, are hard to calculate or are not being tracked. Therefore, to measure progress businesses will need to start tracking and reporting on the emissions and waste they produce and setting benchmarks to determine progress.
Economic sustainability is all about businesses using resources efficiently and responsibly as well as, operating in a sustainable manner whilst also being profitable. Activities such as compliance, governance and risk management also fall under this pillar. Businesses need to be transparent, accurate, and give stockholders the opportunity to vote on important issues, as well as making sure that everything aligns with shareholders' interests, the end-user, value chains, and the community.
The economic pillar helps businesses implement sustainable strategies, although some businesses can be forced to adopt sustainable approaches such as not using chemical fertilisers or using alternative energy sources rather than fossil fuels. It also focuses on activities being available to everyone, such as secure sources of livelihood. Overall, it allows human communities to maintain their own independence and have access to the resources that they require to meet needs such as finance.
The social sustainability pillar is about universal human rights and making sure that the basic necessities are available to everyone, this includes having access to resources in order to keep families and communities healthy and secure. Leaders need to ensure social wellbeing is being met for example, making sure personal, labour, and cultural rights are respected and all people are protected from discrimination. Having social sustainability ensures a country, an organisation, or a community can be maintained in the long-term.
Businesses can focus on social sustainability by participating in things such as community engagement like fundraising and scholarships, giving better benefits to their employees such as maternity benefits or development opportunities. They can also evaluate their supply chain to make sure that everyone is being paid fairly and no exploitation is happening.
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