by Michelle Lievense

Sustainability is a long-time concern, but improving and maintaining sustainable best practices in your facility can be a significant challenge. Building your triple bottom line is easier when you fully understand the 3 pillars of sustainability and choose the right partner to guide you through the process collaboratively.

3 Pillars of Sustainability

Every facility can save money while contributing responsibly to the global environmental impact. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laid out the 3 pillars of sustainability in the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

National policy aims “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”

The 3 pillars of sustainability that have emerged include economic viability, environmental protection, and social equity. Taken together, these pillars result in a high quality of life and a thriving society living in balanced harmony with the environment, rather than depleting resources and living in a state of scarcity.

1. Environmental Protection

The environment both encompasses and supports economic and social pillars. The term sustainable development was coined in the 1980s and is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It includes topics such as air and water quality, resource preservation and integrity, ecosystem restoration and preservation, and more. The United Nations defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals with a call to action for the global audience.

As facilities managers, commercial real estate owners, contractors, and engineers, there is a special responsibility to the pillar of environmental protection because sustainability must be incorporated into facilities and systems from concept to implementation. If you add sustainability measures later, you’ll still gain valuable benefits to your efficiency and bottom line, but working with a qualified and experienced professional to guide implementation will be even more crucial.

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2. Economic Viability

Economic viability refers to the ability of any economy to uphold its output on an ongoing basis. The economist tackles topics like job creation, social prosperity, environmentally-friendly market practices, the cost of sustainability efforts, government involvement and incentives for sustainability best practices in business, and the health of the population as well as the environment.

Because an economy is a complex supply and demand ecosystem, this pillar often reduces the likelihood that environmental sustainability practices are upheld. For example, during a recession, environmental concerns are among the first to be deprioritized.

One of the key components of the economic pillar is the ability of businesses and individuals to consider their long-term impact. When a company sacrifices long-term gains for short-term revenue, it may also deplete natural resources, thereby undermining the company’s ability to survive in the future. Companies need to find long-term ways to survive rather than seeking immediate gains and destabilizing the future economy and environment.

3. Social Equity

Social sustainability and equity refer to any social system’s long-term well-being, whether that be the global community, a country, a neighborhood community, or a single organization.

The needs of the individual are weighed against the needs of the social system regarding topics like ongoing human health and education, environmental justice, and the sustainable balance of all involved. Attention to these factors paves the way for humans and the environment to thrive together rather than compete and merely survive. Poverty, unstable political systems, populations with lower levels of education, and resource insecurity are key indicators of an unstable or precarious social system that is not sustainable.

By designing and securing sustainability best practices into their supply chains, manufacturing, and work conditions — and by stabilizing the communities within which they function — businesses ensure strong, long-term sustainability of the bottom line. When those same community environments are polluted and public health is put at risk, or the workforce is made up of low wages and/or forced or slave labor, the business ensures its demise. Building sustainable best practices, renewable energy technologies, and green infrastructure ensure the long-term success of the business and the community.

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Your Facility and the 3 Pillars Of Sustainability

Much of this conversation is about institutionalizing sustainability. By doing so, the 3 pillar paradigm ensures a habitable planet and long-term survival of all inhabitants, including businesses. Transitory considerations like short-term profitability only destabilize all pillars and systems.

By articulating distinct social, economic, and environmental sustainability practices, your business will ensure the triple bottom line of profit, people, and the planet. Work with an informed and experienced professional to optimize the long-term future of your business.

The team at Therma is working with businesses and facilities like yours to shape our world. As your mechanical solutions provider, Therma pros have over 50 years of experience and knowledge, allowing them to tackle projects of all shapes and sizes that you wouldn’t be able to take on otherwise. Hire Therma as a key contributor to help ensure your viability and long-term success.


EPA – Learn About Sustainability

Springer Link – Three Pillars of Sustainability: In Search of conceptual origins

United Nations 75th Economic and Social Council – Sustainable Development