Understanding the Three Pillar Concept of Sustainability

Ahmad Aloun
3 min readSep 16, 2021


Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

“The concept of sustainability was originally coined in forestry, where it means never harvesting more than what the forest yields in new growth” (Kuhlman & Farrington, 2010). Sustainability solid definition that was defined as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Weidinger, Fischler, & Schmidpeter, Sustainable Entrepreneurship, 2014, p. 136). There are a lot of definitions for sustainability. One is by the Academic Advisory Committee for the Office of Sustainability at the University of Alberta that derived the definition 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” (Alberta, 2010). Another is by the Brundtland commission that defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Crowther & Aras, 2008, p.41).

Crowther and Aras (2008) criticize Brundtland’s definition by arguing that “The problem with Brundtland is that its concern with the effect which action taken in the present has upon the options available in the future has directly led to glib assumptions that sustainable development is both desirable and possible and that corporation can demonstrate sustainability merely by continuing to exist into the future” (p. 43) The Authors know for a fact that for corporation sustainability to be successful, one has to understand that the 3 principles of sustainability which are economic, social, and environmental. And to recognize the problems, identify and address the issues to ensure sustainable development (Crowther & Aras, 2008).

Sustainability expanded to three main principles Social, Economic, and Environmental or known as the Three Pillar Concept. “Whereas social sustainability depends on economic sustainability and vice versa, both strongly depend on environmental sustainability” (Watson, 2018).


The Environmental pillar is when Companies are “focusing on reducing their carbon footprints, packaging waste, water usage and their overall effect on the environment.” One example is Walmart's packaging strategy to accomplish zero-waste, which rewards the environment and considers an ethical, sustainable approach (Beattie, 2019).


For the Economic pillar, Beattie (2019) argues that for a business to be sustainable, it must be profitable without breaking the other two pillars.


Finally, the social pillar states that “a sustainable business should have the support and approval of its employees, stakeholders and the community it operates in” (Beattie, 2019). Beattie (2019) implies that a business should treat employees fairly and equally. Moreover, taking care of the community around them.

Someone can argue that sustainability principles lean towards the benefit and best interest of the community, which also implies that sustainability principles share the values of the utilitarianism theory. The impact of sustainability on businesses is positive. Sustainability provides a larger purpose to companies and communities. Battie (2019) suggests that “a sustainability strategy that is publicly shared can deliver hard-to-quantify benefits such as public goodwill and a better reputation.” Nike is one example of the many leading industries worldwide adopting sustainability as a part of their business. Nike focuses on reducing waste as part of its mission (Haanaes, 2016). More companies believe in sustainability like Walmart, IKEA, and H&M. they have been moving forward to reduce waste, increase resource productivity and optimize material usage (Haanaes, 2016). Haanaes (2016) added that “car manufacturers like BMW and Toyota have made strides on energy efficiency and pollution reduction.”

Kuhlman, T., & Farrington, J. (2010). What is Sustainability? . Retrieved from core.ac.uk: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/29240768.pdf
Weidinger, C., Fischler, F., & Schmidpeter, R. (2014). Sustainable Entrepreneurship.Alberta, U. o. (2010). What is sustainability? Retrieved from mcgill: https://www.mcgill.ca/sustainability/files/sustainability/what-is-sustainability.pdfCrowther, d., & Aras, g. (2008). Corporate Social Responsibility.Watson, A. (2018). The Core Concept of Sustainability . Retrieved from medium: https://medium.com/openforests/the-core-concept-of-sustainability-8facc0811f4fBeattie, A. (2019). The 3 Pillars of Corporate Sustainability. Retrieved from Investopedia: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/100515/three-pillars-corporate-sustainability.aspHaanaes, K. (2016). Why all businesses should embrace sustainability. Retrieved from imd: https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-all-businesses-should-embrace-sustainability/

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Ahmad Aloun



Ahmad Aloun

・Writing・Self Development・Productivity・Entrepreneurship・E-Commerce・Business・