Sustainable development: what are the 3 pillars behind this concept?

Sustainable development: what are the 3 pillars behind this concept?

Sustainable development: everyone talks about it, but do you really know what is behind the term? We explain it all to you!

Astrid Serre

Astrid Serre

Climate consultant

Update :

Building your CSR strategy according to the foundations of sustainable development: this topic is at the centre of all conversations, but do you really know what it means? What is sustainable development? What actions should companies take to align themselves with the 17 UN goals?

Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development first appeared in the Brundtland Report, at the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. It was at this time that the first definition was given:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

This report and this definition make it possible to identify the three pillars of sustainable development:

  • The economic pillar
  • The ecological pillar
  • The social pillar

Organisations rely on these three pillars to implement their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) strategy, but how can they be defined in concrete terms?

The economic axis

This axis is based on the capacity of companies to develop a responsible economic system. The aim is to create well-paid jobs while limiting the impact of their production on the environment.

The environmental axis

The environmental pillar of sustainable development pushes companies to develop their activity while preserving the environment, which means :

  • To evaluate precisely their consumption of natural resources, in order to reduce or optimise it.
  • Reduce their emissions, whether it be greenhouse gas emissions or various waste products.

It is therefore essential to know precisely the impact of all the company's activities in order to implement an effective CSR strategy. In order to do this, a carbon footprint assessment is one of the diagnostics to be carried out in order to make a rigorous and serious commitment to sustainable development.

The social axis

In order to be in line with the social pillar, a company must satisfy the needs of equity and respect for individual rights, i.e. the needs of health, education, housing or prevention of exclusion.

For a company, this means contributing to the well-being of its stakeholders (well-being of employees at work, transparency and honesty with customers and suppliers, etc.), fighting against exclusion (gender equality, helping with reintegration, ensuring that premises are accessible to people with reduced mobility, etc.) or promoting solidarity (purchase of labelled raw materials, partnership with local associations, etc.).

Developing this social axis significantly improves the quality of working life and the well-being of employees, and can be an excellent way of retaining talent longer within the organisation.

The big picture of sustainable development

The three pillars of sustainable development are interdependent. If one of the pillars is less developed than the others, then the company's CSR strategy will not be considered sustainable. It must be able to act on all three areas simultaneously, as sustainable development is a multidisciplinary concept.

It is common to represent the 3 axes of sustainable development with interconnected circles.

3 complementary areas of sustainable development

Sustainable development lies at the intersection of these three areas.

Be in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In order to encourage sustainable development, the UN has set 17 goals to save the world( organised according to the 3 pillars mentioned above. Among them, we can find goals for :

  • Clean and affordable energy
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Measures to combat climate change

Companies have a big role to play in achieving these goals. Indeed, a good CSR strategy can drastically reduce the problems identified by the UN. Reducing your company's carbon emissions is one of the effective actions to achieve these goals. It goes without saying that to improve your company's impact in the long term, you must first measure your initial impact. Carrying out regular carbon assessments is therefore a necessary starting point for building a coherent and effective CSR strategy.

Implementing a sustainable CSR strategy: how to act?

It is sometimes difficult to know where to start when you want to put sustainability at the heart of your CSR strategy. To help you, here is a non-exhaustive list of actions that can be taken:

  • Carry out a regular carbon assessment of all your activities in order to monitor your emissions. Tools, such as the SaaS Traace, can help you in this process. In addition to measuring your carbon footprint, it also allows you to design emissions trajectories and monitor the progress of your reduction actions. On the one hand, this type of measure has a positive economic impact on your company, by controlling dependence on carbon-based materials, the price of which is constantly rising. On the other hand, reducing the impact of your activities on the environment makes it possible to limit global warming, and therefore the considerable modification of ecosystems and our societies (rise in temperatures, migration movements, etc.).
  • Recycling your waste with local partners can reduce your carbon emissions and the pollution caused by waste disposal.
  • Make your employees aware of the use of bicycles and walking as a means of transport. Your company can also buy bicycles and make them available to its employees, thus echoing the social dimension (improving QWL) of sustainable development.
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