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The three-pillar model of sustainability – Part 1

In order to master the major and complex challenges of our time, sustainable development is unavoidable. The three-pillar model of sustainability is a concept that is based on a balance of ecological, economic and social aspects of development in order to achieve sustainable development. The simultaneous and equal implementation of ecological, economic and social goals is important here.

A brief outline of the history

The three-pillar model was widely publicized in a final report by the German Bundestag commission in 1998. Since then, the model has been widely used in environmental and development policy, although the international focus was initially placed more on development issues. The central issues at the time were urbanization, growing poverty and population policy. The model has been further developed over the decades and the importance of education for sustainable development, for example, has been emphasized.

Urbanization continues to be a key issue in the sustainability debate

Three dimensions - ecological, social and economic

Sustainable development should therefore ideally be viewed holistically. While ecological sustainability is often thought of first, economic and social aspects are just as relevant to sustainability. According to the pillar model, sustainable development should be economically, ecologically and socially stable and balanced.

Three-pillar model of sustainability

Ecological sustainability

The ecological aspect includes the demand to protect the environment, including natural resources. It is therefore about preserving the ecological system so that future generations can exist in it. Ecologically sustainable lifestyles are those that do not exploit natural resources, but only use them to the extent that they can regenerate. Specific examples of this are waste separation or the use of renewable energies.

Social sustainability

The social dimension of sustainability emphasizes the importance of social and societal cohesion. Above all, this aspect includes the demand for tolerance, freedom, justice and solidarity in a spatial and temporal dimension. A society should organize itself in such a way that social conflicts are kept to a minimum and can be resolved peacefully. Examples include fair wages for employees, equal opportunities and improved health standards.

Economic sustainability

Our system is economically sustainable when we as a society do not live beyond our means. Provided that growth is environmentally and socially compatible, the economic aspect of sustainability includes the goal of maintaining the economic system and strengthening economic growth. These goals are to be achieved through technical progress and innovation, among other things. Examples of economic sustainability include the use of sustainable materials and the promotion of local and fair production.


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