What Are the Principles of Sustainability? A Stool With Three Legs!

Sustainability - The principles

The principles of sustainability include a holistic approach applicable not just to individuals and organizations but also to the broader environmental context.

Sustainability is a broad term, and it signifies the capacity to fulfill the present needs without compromising the prospects of future generations to satisfy their own. This concept is rooted in environmental, economic, and social aspects; they all work together, supporting sustainability like the legs of a stool.

The environmental perspective of sustainability emphasizes the imperative to protect the environment, ensuring its longevity and health. On the other hand, economic sustainability underscores the careful use of financial resources. Social sustainability, the final leg, underlines the requirement of societies to promote equity and social justice.


Principles of Sustainability - The 3 Pillars

Principles of Sustainability

1. Environmental Sustainability

The Main Aspects of Environmental Sustainability

power-station-environmental pollutions
Air Pollution

Air pollution has escalated into a global health crisis. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution has emerged as the most significant environmental health risk worldwide, contributing to an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths yearly. Emissions from vehicles, power plants, factories, and agricultural activities primarily contribute to outdoor air pollution.

Water and Soil Pollution

Water pollution, a problem that has been intensifying over the years, occurs when pollutants are discharged into water bodies such as lakes, oceans, and rivers. The primary sources of water pollution include municipal wastewater, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents. These pollutants pose severe threats to environmental and public health.

Plant Life

Climate change significantly impacts the Earth’s plant life. While some plant species struggle to survive in their traditional habitats, others thrive in new environments. Moreover, climate change triggers alterations in the timing of plant life cycles and the global distribution of plant species.


The world is witnessing a staggering loss of animal and plant species, leading to a threatening reduction in biodiversity that jeopardizes our natural ecosystems. The principal cause is habitat loss, driven by escalating human populations and their increasing demand for land, food, water, and other resources.

Wildlife habitat loss remains a significant threat to various species and is the primary cause of extinction. Numerous factors, such as deforestation, urban development, pollution, and climate change, contribute to habitat loss.

2. Social Sustainability

social sustainability

Social sustainability represents the ability of individuals, communities, and societies to interact consistently and integrate with their natural and economic environments in ways that yield equitable and just social outcomes for everyone. Over recent years, social sustainability has become a crucial framework for understanding the intricacies of human-environment interactions. An expanding body of research underscores that social factors, including income inequality, race, and ethnicity, play a significant role in determining environmental outcomes.

Definition of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development applies across various sectors, including water, health, power and energy, agriculture, and biodiversity.

On September 25, 2015, the United Nations unveiled the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world. These goals constitute a universal call to action aimed at eradicating poverty, enhancing education quality, promoting affordable and clean energy, protecting the planet, and ensuring peace and prosperity for all. These goals were recognized as interconnected and inseparable and demanded a comprehensive approach. They are ambitious but attainable, necessitating concerted efforts from governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals worldwide.

3. Economic Sustainability

sustainable economy

Economic sustainability involves implementing strategies that enable a company or nation to generate profits without compromising environmental, social, or cultural aspects. Presently, only a few businesses align with the principles of economic sustainability, despite widespread acknowledgment that green companies form an integral component of a sustainable world.
A sustainable future is envisioned where humanity thrives without causing harm or depleting natural resources. Thus, ensuring economic sustainability is imperative. However, it cannot be achieved in isolation and must be considered alongside social and ecological sustainability.
The social dimension of sustainability underscores the necessity to foster equitable and just societies.


Sustainability, a misunderstood or narrowly defined concept, represents a three-pronged approach addressing environmental, social, and economic dimensions. Like the three legs of a stool, each facet is critical and mutually reinforcing.
Environmental sustainability, a pillar widely recognized, focuses on conserving and enhancing our planet’s health. It champions judicious resource utilization and emphasizes reducing air, water, and soil pollution, protecting plant life, and safeguarding biodiversity.
Social sustainability, though an emerging field, is vital in realizing sustainable development. It demands the creation of equitable societies, ensuring everyone has access to the necessary resources for a fulfilling life.
Economic sustainability requires corporations and nations to realize profits without compromising on the environmental, social, and cultural fronts. It envisages a future where economic progress comes at a cost other than our natural resources or social equity.


A Veterinarian who grew up in the countryside of a small Italian town and moved to live and work in the United Kingdom. I have spent most of my professional time trying to improve the quality of life of animals and the environmental and economic sustainability of farm enterprises.

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