There are many aspects of building a healthy community and a sustainable community. There are three in particular that are critical when it comes to sustainability. The three e’s of sustainability ensure that there will be plenty of resources for those who are here long after we move on.
The three e’s take social needs, economic opportunities, and environmental impact all into account when setting the stage for future generations. In this post, we will cover economy, ecology, and equity, which are the three important dynamics of building a sustainable future.
The three E’s of sustainability are usually the focal point anytime sustainability is brought up. However, true sustainability takes these ideals, commonly referred to as the three-legged stool, and makes sure that each is represented in a balanced and sound manner.
Today, we will present the three e’s explained in a way that is easy to understand and easy to implement.
Table of Contents
What are The Three E’s of Sustainability?
The three E’s offer a viable framework for communities to anticipate and plan for the future. Following the three E’s will help people to make effective choices that will allow for a better, sustainable tomorrow. The idea and the premise behind this school of thought are simple.
For true sustainability, there will always be equitable choices that benefit the community as a whole instead of a select few. Real equity allows everyone to share and participate in the well-being of a community regardless of income, race, age, disability, or otherwise.
Ecology in sustainability is the tie between the environment and living things. Everyone has a footprint, and we are not referring to your shoe size.
Our ecological footprint is the amount of water, land, and air needed to support our lives. True sustainability ensures that no one ecological footprint is too large, and what is used is also replenished in equal measure. Equity in sustainability is basically how fairness.
The economy in sustainability is how resources are allocated to meet the needs of the community.
See Related: Best Impact Investing Books to Read
What Do the Three E’s Mean in Sustainability?
Within the sustainability framework, the economic, environmental, and ethical (or social) are a sustainable combination in which all have equal importance.
Below are the three e’s explained in finer detail. Before we get into the specifics of the three e’s of sustainability, it is important to explain sustainability properly. Sustainability is basically being able to complete the same task or sustain a behavior without end, infinite.
See Related: How to Invest in Wind Energy | Best Wind Stocks
When referring to environmental sustainability, it refers to the yearly harvest being equal to or less than the yearly regeneration rate. In terms of pollution, the generation of waste for any project should never exceed the disposal capacity of the environment.
Non-renewable resources in this aspect should not be depleted but instead replaced with a comparable resource that will serve as a renewable substitute. Environmental sustainability also focuses on water resources which is one of the most essential of all.
Sustainable water should be clean and also renewable, and with all life on earth dependent upon freshwater, the importance of these pillars is clear.
The environmental pillar is the crux of the three E’s. The conservation of natural resources is the most important part of sustainable living.
In order to reduce the impact of humans on the environment and various ecosystems, a focus on water quality, air quality, pollution reduction, eco-friendly product development, waste reduction, and overall conservation is key.
Pollution reduction has come to the forefront in recent years mainly due to the effects of global warming and the depletion of finite fossil fuels.
Environmental sustainability also deals with design. What sites people and businesses choices and the methods used to source energy will also play a big role in sustainability. Instead of long-haul transportation, being sustainable means designs and materials should be local sources and fully recyclable.
This goes for building materials, consumables, management techniques, transportation, and much more. Instead of thinking on a 1:1 scale, environmental sustainability involves a whole-systems approach.
See Related: Best ESG Stocks to Invest in Today
In general, economic sustainability is when a community or country has the ability to support a specific level of economic output indefinitely. That being said, what is the right way to define an economic production level? Most nations define their goals according to their GDP, which overall will remain constant.
The rise by a specific percentage annually is a goal that all communities and nations have, and aside from war, nothing is more important. Without growth, stagnation sets in, which leads to a loss or recession, and a failure of sustainability. True economic sustainability should focus on the basic, healthy quality of life for those alive now and future generations.
The goal of most GDP is to grow, not support a sustainable economy. The poverty threshold is the line after which a person will become malnourished and eventually perish. In a society with sustainable economic goals, the poverty threshold will be low, and 5% or less of the population will fall below it.
If or when this is achieved, there will be economic sustainability.
Economic sustainability, though complex, is easily explained by simply being able to maintain a viable economic balance indefinitely. Instead of focusing on lowering costs, it is important to target being cost-neutral.
These types of tactics are more likely to succeed and are easier for multiple generations to adopt regardless of any form of economic upheaval.
See Related: Best Impact Investing Jobs | Make a Difference
Ethical sustainability is the pillar that is least understood and also features the loosest definition. There are many ways to approach sustainable development, although ethical sustainability often gets the least amount of public attention when compared to the other two pillars.
In terms of ethical sustainability, the community, country, or world’s social structure will need to have a balance that is indefinitely held. The quality of life for those currently living and those that will follow afterward should be optimized in a way that offers a balanced benefit.
There is no consensus on what goals should be for quality of life, mainly due to the varied cultural and religious differences between communities. Class and economics also play a role that further makes it hard to define. Of all the pillars, ethical sustainability on the social level is the weakest due to the general lack of consensus.
To simplify, it is best to delegate ethical sustainability to an action that does no harm but offers at least a general benefit to the community as a whole. Equity that is sustainable, or rather social equity, can easily be broken down into the health and well-being of individuals in a community.
This aspect of sustainability may be the least understood, but it is very important. By teaching people the importance of sustainability and giving them the tools to live better, their health and their local environment will benefit.
See Related: Awesome Impact Investing Examples to Know
The Three E’s, What It All Means
Sustainability may not have three E’s, but the premise creates a balance that will allow people to approach life in a way that is greener, healthier, and actually attainable. On the local level, thinking about sustainability is much easier on a smaller scale.
When you visit a place or live somewhere, for example, are you going to affect the area in a permanent way? Will your presence and actions cause a species to go extinct? When you start thinking on a smaller scale, it is easy to then look forward on a larger, global scale. Is the way people live leading to ocean acidification and climate change?
Economic sustainability is tougher to manage but still within our reach. Generating an income that is enough to live comfortably has always been a goal of families everywhere. It is important to focus on earning and investing in a way that will provide stable quality of life now, into retirement, and for your future generations.
In addition to economic sustainability on a personal level, companies and big corporations also need to focus on their production. Renewable products, energy, and resources are critical, but the big business also needs to ensure its footprint remains small while providing a stable quality of life for its workers.
While this may seem like a social experiment, offering a living wage that allows working-class people to live healthy, comfortable lives will further reduce the strain on other resources, Healthcare, crime, and even educational cost are all outside the realm of sustainability because most people are not afforded a wage that supports economic safety.
By thinking big, we as individuals can live in a way that environmentally sustainable. It is important to note that you can live sustainably even while having an impact. After all, with close to 8 billion people on the planet, there is going to be a significant impact on the water, food, and climates in which we live.
The point is to live in a way that prevents soil sterility, polluted waters, and low air quality. This also covers the way we eat and how we hunt or fish. Instead of consuming copious amounts of everything, improving our diets and reducing our impact on the environment will ensure we and our future generations will never face issues with food scarcity.
Social or ethical sustainability is more important than ever. This also ties into economics and the environment in surprising ways. Fair Trade certifications are on the rise to help support global ethical sustainability.
Environmental sustainability certifications also are increasing, which is putting us on the right track to attain social equity that is sustainable. Make sure the communities are benefiting from an equitable share also helps to stabilize and create economic suitability.
Sustainability has three core components, and when they are in balance, it can create a world that is not only better to live in but one that will be around much longer to support us and our future generations.
Working with certification groups, being mindful of where your products are sourced, and even making a conscious effort to reduce your environmental footprint are all steps that you can take to put the three E’s into practice. The worse thing we can do is focus only on our present needs and ignore the needs of those who will come after us.
Living sustainably will not only allow us to live longer, healthier lives, but it will also allow us to leave behind a green, living legacy for years to come.
Governments worldwide have started to come together to form programs and initiatives that will help us protect our natural resources while also putting new technologies to use that will reduce our dependence on finite resources such as fossil fuels.