Sustainability is a valuable tool in today's world, providing guidelines to adapt global and local strategies for the processes that are detrimental to the environment and human survival. When hearing the word sustainability, many people may associate things like ecosystem protection, the use of renewable resources, and generally behaving in an environmentally conscious manner. However, while environmentalism is part of sustainability, the concept also encompasses economic development and social equity.
The three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social
The word sustainability has been increasingly used in a myriad of ways and has a context-specific understanding. While the concept itself is not new, it gained prominence after the United Nations' 1987 Brundtland Commission Report that reconciled economic development with the protection of social and environmental balance. According to the Brundtland report (Our Common Future), sustainable development was defined as "... development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Sustainability and sustainable development, conceptually represented under three pillars - environmental protection, economic development, and social development, has gained widespread prominence.
Since then, it has been broadly intertwined with processes and actions of humankind to avoid natural resource depletion and to maintain ecological balance without hindering the quality of life.
Why is sustainable development important?
Economic growth has mainly come at the expense of the environment since the Industrial Revolution began. While economies, population, and resource demand grows continuously, the size of Earth remains the same. If humanity continues with this trend, Earth's resources will not be able to sustain its population. By the year 2100, it is estimated that the global population will likely reach eleven billion. With the world's resources increasingly being depleted, it is vital to judiciously utilize these resources, with Earth overshoot day arriving sooner every year. Sustainability as a tool helps us adapt strategies in a modern world to uplift economies without exhausting natural resources. In September 2015, under the aegis of the United Nations, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development and its 17 sustainable goals (SDGs) were adopted by all member states. The goals address the global challenges faced by humanity in all walks of life and aim to achieve a sustainable future for all. Various actors actively contribute to achieving the SDGs; one such example is impact investing.
Putting sustainability into practice
Governments have introduced various financial instruments that aid in long-term investments in sustainable economic activities and projects, supporting the shift to a low-carbon economy. One such popular instrument is green bonds that fund climate and environmental projects.
In today's competitive world, companies indulge in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to build a positive image for investors and customers. Moreover, a sustainability strategy integrates the policies and practices to create profits, consider their workplaces, and try to be eco-friendly along their entire value chain. Many retailers and brands are rethinking packaging design and materials, and delivery systems to be more sustainable. The sustainability mindset also includes social issues like gender equality, happiness at the workplace, or taking responsibility for the communities affected by their activities. Amid growing pressure from investors, many companies across various industries are embracing sustainability reporting on a regular basis.
Is sustainability more than just a buzzword?
In general, the concept of sustainability can provide guidance to develop the ability to protect the natural environment, as well as human and ecological health while minimally compromising on typical ways of life. In this way, sustainability as a concept in today's world has ensured workers are paid a fair wage and have good working conditions. It influences consumer preferences that have streamlined the manufacturing process and technological advancements towards a circular approach. Therefore, the sustainability strategy is to have a long-term vision for economic growth, mutually supporting social cohesion, and environmental protection.
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