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  • Rob Elgar

What is Sustainability and Why Should You Care About it?

Have you heard the term sustainability but don’t quite understand what it means?

It is hard to understand why you should care about something when you don’t understand its meaning or purpose.

Sustainability or sustainable living focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the survivability of future generations and the meeting of their needs.

This, however, is not as simply defined as it may seem.

In this article, we will discuss the four pillars of sustainability and why it is important to care about sustainable living.

Why is it difficult to define sustainability?

In short, the term sustain, which is the route of sustainable, can be defined as “give support to”, which leads to sustainable being something that can be supported or kept in a certain condition or at a particular level.

Therefore one way of looking at sustainability is the act of maintaining something in a way that makes it last with a predefined condition.

The problem here is that the predefined condition to keep the object is never set in stone due to different ideas on what that level should be.

Beyond this, different aspects of life will have different requirements in order for them to be sustained.

This makes sustainability very difficult to define.

However, nowadays sustainability is usually used when referring to the “upkeep” of the planet, and as such, has been broken into different categories known as the three pillars of sustainability.

What are the three pillars of sustainability?

Being broken into different areas, the preservation of the earth's resources becomes easier to manage.

There are three main pillars of sustainability, however, cultural sustainability can be argued as being a fourth.

As such, sustainability is broken into the following three categories:

- Environmental Sustainability

- Economic sustainability

- Social Sustainability

What is environmental sustainability?

According to the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, environmental sustainability aims at preserving the current environmental resources of the current time.

This is done so that future generations can survive from them in an equal if not better capacity.

This definition can also be understood as the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the boundaries that the earth's ecosystem can support.

However you would like to define environmental sustainability, one thing remains true;

The focus on preserving the earth's natural resources such as water, land, air, minerals, food, etc. in order for future generations to thrive while still supporting the current population.

A program or business can be called environmentally sustainable when it achieves its goals and outcomes without threatening the future.

To regulate this, each country has its own laws that attain to environmental law.

These laws generally cover Air, water, and soil quality, plant and animal habitats, hazardous wastes, and greenhouse gasses.

What is Economic Sustainability?

Economic sustainability refers to practices that support economic growth without negatively effecting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of a community.

These practices should always support long-term growth and not just those of the present.

Being economically sustainable should aim at improving the standard of living within a community.

This model should take into account not only the financial aspects of a business as we see it, but should also include the costs created from damage to the earth.

When considering the sustainable economic health of a business, the community and environment need to be closely monitored.

It is not possible to be economically sustainable when the needs of the environment, as well as society, are not being met.

When a company loses profits due to environmental or social factors it is no more sustainable than when their environment is negatively affected by a companies actions.

What is Social Sustainability?

Social sustainability aims to preserve social capital in terms of employers, employees, customers, and all other aspects of human interaction.

In other words, social sustainability looks at the well-being and general happiness of people in areas that they live and work.

When meeting the needs of communities on a social level, the needs of the environment as well as the long-term profitability of a business need to be considered.

Unlike economic sustainability, when looking at the social side, the impacts of laws, global relations, and communication are focused on, instead of economic growth.

That being said, the two are intrinsically linked, as a poor economy leads to a low quality of social happiness.

The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability - Cultural Sustainability

Culture is a powerful driver for development and has a large impact on the social, environmental, and economic sectors.

Culture determines a community's values, behaviors, and assumptions. This directly affects how society looks at their rights, health, and quality of life.

It is because of these factors that cultural sustainability can not be ignored when looking at sustainability as a whole.

The way we are raised often determines the outlook we have on the world. Without a strong sustainable culture, it is difficult to uphold social structure.

Why Should You Care About Sustainability?

So why is sustainability important and why should you care?

In short, if humankind is going to continue to survive on the planet with similar, or ideally better conditions then we must take action to preserve it.

The world faces countless social, economic, cultural and environmental issues.

Although it may seem like no individual can make a difference, when looking at the impacts of each decision and its trickle-down effect, it is possible to see how each person needs to take responsibility.

When asking yourself “why should I care about sustainability?” a returning question could be, what kind of a world do you want to live in, and what kind of a world do you want for your children?


Sustainability or sustainable living is the act of each individual taking into account the impacts of their actions on the environment, economy, social structure, and cultural preservation.

For our species to survive in a world that we want to live in, and not just a world that we can live in, high regard for sustainability should be upheld.

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