The Three Pillars of Sustainability, Explained
More and more, consumers and brands alike are prioritizing sustainable practices. And here at Bite, we are absolutely on board. With the threat of climate change looming, shifting to more sustainable habits wherever we can is key. Even small changes can lead to big improvements in the well-being of our planet, our health, and future generations.
But, while we may know that transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle is important, knowing exactly what that should look like is a little tricker. After all, how can we know for sure what will have an impact? Where should we be focusing our efforts? How can we integrate sustainable habits into our everyday lives long-term?
We’ve all been there and know that getting started can feel overwhelming. The good news is that there is a framework for sustainability that can help guide you.
This framework, known as the three pillars of sustainability, consists of three interconnected categories: social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability.
Here at Bite, we’re breaking down the three pillars into bite-sized pieces and sharing some of our favorite tips for balancing them in your sustainable living journey.
What Is Sustainability?
The word “sustainability” gets used a lot these days, but it’s actually a relatively new concept, with no single, clear-cut definition. At its core, though, we understand sustainability to mean meeting our own needs and the needs of the present without hindering the ability of future generations to meet their needs down the line.
When we ask ourselves, “is this sustainable?” We are asking if a particular way of doing something will fulfill not only an immediate need in the short term but do so without harming the planet or those sharing it with us in the long term.
In some ways, easy answers to short-term problems can seem at odds with long-term needs. Take plastic packaging, for example. This method provides companies with an affordable way to protect their products during transit in the here and now, but all of the plastic waste piling up in landfills and in our oceans contributes to climate change, worsens air quality, and affects the health of sea critters, negatively impacting ecological systems and compromising the wellbeing of future generations to come.
This is where the three pillars of sustainability come into play. The three pillars are often thought of as a Venn diagram: three overlapping circles with overall sustainability at the center.
When we consider the three pillars together in this form, it becomes clear that what is sustainable in one area is sustainable in the other. The three sectors aren’t at odds with one another but are all working towards the same goal of a brighter, more hopeful future.
What Is the History of Sustainability?
The idea of sustainability and seeking a multifaceted approach to address multiple needs at once began gaining mainstream attention during the 1970s and 1980s. This led to the concept of the three pillars, which played a major role in the goals set by a United Nations sub-organization called the World Commission on Environment and Development.
Also known as the Brundtland Commission, this sub-organization aimed to bring countries together in pursuit of more sustainable and equitable practices ensuring environmental protections. In 1987, the group published a report, “Our Common Future,” which popularized the term sustainable development and established the three pillars as the foundation of sustainable development needed to move us towards this common future that can benefit us all.
Today, the three pillars serve as a blueprint for corporations building sustainable practices. They can also serve as a framework to help us navigate our everyday lives. With the three pillars, we can feel more confident making choices that benefit our mental and physical wellbeing, our financial wellbeing, and the wellbeing of our environment all at once.
What Are the Pillars of Sustainability?
The three pillars of sustainability — social, economic, and environmental — are meant to work in harmony. To achieve overall sustainability, it is vital to consider the intersections between the three and ensure no one pillar is sacrificed in the name of another.
Social sustainability refers to the well-being of the people. This pillar encompasses human health, social justice, equitable practices, transparent communication, and building meaningful community and support systems.
When it comes to social sustainability, individual and community needs should be met in equitable ways.
For a corporation pursuing sustainable business, social sustainability may look like providing good benefits, prioritizing the health and safety of all workers and consumers, engaging in safe, ethical practices during all stages of production, reducing reliance on fossil fuels that negatively impact the health of community members, and seeking input from not only stakeholders but also employees and the larger community they are operating in.
The social pillar reminds us that what is good for our health tends to align with what is good for the planet and that low-cost methods that exploit or harm workers or consumers are not truly sustainable.
Corporate social responsibility requires businesses to balance economic growth with practices that promote social wellbeing and ecological integrity.
While a business’s ability to make a profit is often opposed to its ability to achieve environmental sustainability, the two can — and should — go hand in hand.
After all, a strategy of building a quick profit off of limited resources cannot last long-term, as those resources will become more scarce. Similarly, many shifts towards environmental sustainability also help bolster economic sustainability.
To achieve economic sustainability, corporations may simultaneously lower their carbon footprint and operating costs by recycling materials, insulating office buildings to lower energy consumption (and create a more comfortable work environment), and forgoing same day or next day shipping options and instead utilizing already existing shipping routes as we do at Bite.
The economic pillar of sustainability can also include voting with your dollar by purchasing from companies that are transparent with their social and environmental sustainability practices, as well as calling for government action and incentives that further align economic growth with social and environmental justice, such as through subsidizing renewable energy.
This is the pillar of sustainability most of us are familiar with: environmental sustainability.
The environmental pillar reminds us to consider the importance of protecting natural ecosystems and animal habitats to ensure the planet and all those living on it can continue to thrive.
To achieve corporate sustainability, businesses must measure their environmental impact and take tangible steps to lower their reliance on fossil fuels and extraction of natural resources, the waste they produce, and their carbon footprint.
Our health depends greatly on the health of the planet. Limiting overconsumption, plastic waste, and the release of harmful toxins and chemicals can all improve air and water quality, benefiting the planet, our quality of life, and the wellbeing of those to come.
Ultimately, the environmental pillar asks us to consider the steps we can take to leave the planet better than we found it, and incorporate those steps into our sustainable development goals.
How Can I Balance the Three Pillars of Sustainability?
We are so excited that you are considering ways to live a more sustainable life, and here at Bite, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to do so.
With the three sustainability pillars in mind, you can consider the emotional, social, financial, and environmental impacts of various daily habits to help you find the most sustainable for your life.
Here are some of our favorite sustainable habits that can benefit your wellbeing, save you money, and protect the planet.
Start a Compost Pile
Goodness, do we love a compost! By placing your kitchen scraps and compostable packaging (including what we use to store and ship our Bite refills) in a compost pile, you can help keep waste out of landfills and instead return these natural resources to the earth.
Your compost will decompose naturally and can then be used as a natural fertilizer, which can then be used to provide nutrients to your house plants or garden and save money on soil. You can get your community in on the fun by partnering with neighbors and local shops to collect their compostable items, such as coffee grounds.
Buy Locally Grown and In-Season Produce When You Can
In 2020, agriculture was responsible for 11% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation was responsible for 27% more than any other sector.
You can help lower the carbon footprint in both areas by supporting ethical and sustainable agriculture where you can. This may look like eating less meat, supporting initiatives that push for equitable farming practices such as the Justice for Black Farmers Act, eating a seasonal diet, and buying produce grown locally.
By buying locally grown food, you can help support your local economy, invest in environmental justice, reduce the carbon emissions associated with transporting foods over long distances, and ensure you are getting fresher produce and, therefore, more nutrient-rich.
Similarly, eating fruits and veggies that are in season in your location can help create a more sustainable environment by allowing the environment to cycle through its natural resources without the need for chemical additives or human-made growing conditions that require large amounts of nonrenewable resources and water to procure.
Seasonal eating can also help introduce you to new types of food, vary your meals, and ensure you get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Purchase Only What You Need
A societal focus on overconsumption can not only wreak havoc on natural ecological systems, but also on your wallet.
We are constantly being pushed to buy more,--even seemingly environmentally-friendly initiatives often encourage you to buy the newest green product. But the truth is, one of the best things we can do for the planet is buy less.
Most products rely on the extraction of raw materials to produce and can emit greenhouse gasses during the manufacturing process. Single-use products or anything constantly coming out in new, updated forms meant to be replaced often (think fast fashion or the latest technology) are doomed to pile up in landfills and pollute our oceans.
To help you move away from overconsumption, try asking yourself these questions before making a new purchase: is this something I’ll use often? Will I still want this a year from now? Will this product make me happy? How long will this last before I need a new one? Is there a more long-lasting option I can invest in instead?
We recommend repurposing whenever you can, too. For instance, as an alternative to buying a new outfit for a one-time event, you could give new life to clothing you already own or borrow from a friend instead.
Ultimately, buying less and switching to products that don’t need replacing as often can help save you money, allow you to focus on what brings you joy, and restore balance to our natural ecosystems.
Invest in Ethically Produced, Zero Waste Products
When you do need to buy new, investing in ethically produced and zero-waste products can go far in reducing our carbon footprint.
Look into a company’s business practices to ensure they are committed to ethical and sustainable development and transparent about what is in their products and how they source them.
Here at Bite, we keep all of our products and packaging completely plastic-free, opting for sleek and reusable glass containers instead of plastic tubes. We also list all of our vegan and cruelty-free ingredients in our Nothing To Hide Pledge so you can know exactly what you are putting in your body and ensure every ingredient aligns with your values and your wellbeing.
How Does Bite Incorporate the Pillars of Sustainability?
At Bite, we know that corporations have a social responsibility to invest in practices that address environmental issues, support the health of consumers, and ensure this beautiful planet continues to thrive for generations to come.
What is good for the planet is good for us, too, and the planet's future is the most important investment any corporation can make. That is why we are committed to providing affordable and healthy wellness products that can transform your oral care routine in the short term and the planet's future in the long term.
With zero-waste products and packaging, we can help reduce the 448 million tons of plastic pollution produced each year. Free of potentially irritating harsh chemicals such as parabens and sulfates, our skincare and oral care products contain only what you need and nothing you don’t.
Our customizable subscription program allows you to choose what you want and when, ensuring you get only what you need when you need it–all conveniently delivered right to your door in fully recyclable, reusable, refillable, or compostable packaging and shipping material.
We further reduce our carbon footprint by bypassing retail and using existing shipping routes to save on resources and reduce transit-related carbon emissions. This helps us remain proudly carbon neutral. And any of the few carbon emissions we can’t avoid, we offset by partnering with Carbonfund.org.
The Bottom Line
The interconnected pillars of social, economic, and environmental sustainability have been used for decades to help move corporations toward sustainable development and ensure that people and ecosystems are protected during every step of the supply chain.
We proudly integrate the three pillars of sustainability into our practices at Bite, and you can use them to help build your everyday practices, too.
Creating sustainable habits may feel overwhelming initially, but the three pillars of sustainability can help you find a balance that works for you and your routine. Remember to prioritize progress over perfection, and that even the small habits add up.
You’ve got this, and — as always — we’ve got your back (and your teeth!) as you continue your journey towards more sustainable living.