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The 3 pillars of corporate sustainability

Corporate sustainability has become one of the key operating principles in both small enterprises and multinational corporations. The notion of sustainability in business can be narrowed down to three key categories – environmental, social and economic pillars. In this article, we are going to discuss how they affect the planet, people and companies.

What are the three pillars of sustainable development?

The three pillars of corporate sustainability is a principle that comprises the actions of a particular company in the environmental, economical and social areas. These are the primary dimensions that business models have to take into account when balancing their profit sheets and impact on others.

1. The environment pillar

The environmental pillar of business sustainability primarily defines the effect companies have on the planet. They are usually concerned with this direction, as it is the most tangible of all the sustainability actions, as well as the heavily regulated one. Companies focus on carbon emissions, aim to reduce their waste, and try to minimize their negative impact on the planet.

Whereas externalities of business activities are hard to calculate and reflect in the consumer prices, successful implementation of environmental initiatives toward cleaner air, land, and water relies on the consciousness and fairness of companies worldwide. That does not mean activities in this pillar are mainly philanthropic, as some directions (i.e. reduced or recycled packaging) can also bring monetary business value in the form of savings and cost reduction.

2. The social pillar

The social pillar of corporate sustainability ensures that people and societies are not left out of the sustainability equation. Companies introduce incentives for their employees, both in form of social benefits, such as maternity and parental leaves, as well as in flexible working conditions and inclusive decision making, concerning every employee of the given enterprise.

Fairness and equity usually spill over to a broader social sphere, incorporating communities within which the company operates. The bedrock of a social pillar of corporate sustainability is giving back to people through fundraising, investments into public infrastructure, or else. Maintaining honest relations between enterprise and society ensures business continuity and resilience.

3. The economic pillar

The economic pillar of corporate sustainability focuses on profits and gains, as they will always remain the end goal of any successful enterprise. To maximize the profit, coal-run factories could operate 24/7, but the potential effect on neighboring communities adds pressure to business model adjustments. Such alterations embody the essence of the economic aspect of sustainability.

To reach the desired equilibrium, it is crucial to balance the interest of shareholders, and internal and external stakeholders, as well as to take into account the impact on the environment and community businesses operate in. This outcome is achieved with proper governance, responsible risk management, and transparency, as it gets everybody on board and in line.

The benefits of sustainability in business

The key benefits of sustainability in business include greater resilience and business model continuity, as well as leads to good publicity. Implementing three pillars of sustainability will soon bring tangible results.

  • Reduced business costs. Sustainability requirements push towards energy efficiency, and social benefits empower the workforce, leading to increased productivity and, eventually, cost reduction. Such companies use their resources responsibly, save energy, and constantly look for ways to reduce their negative impact on the planet and society. They do not shy away from investments as they identify possibilities and saving in the long run.

  • Improved reputation and brand image. Companies that honestly engage in sustainable activities and vertically integrate them across the organization are perceived as doing good for society. Eventually, these companies become the key change drivers, inspiring customers to change their habits and take up sustainable practices, creating a spillover effect.

  • Competitive advantage. Sustainable companies are more attractive to investors, partners, and potential employees, resulting in a multiplier effect and eventually adding to the efficiency and competitive edge. On the other hand, no one wants to be associated with companies that are blind to environmental challenges or exploit their employees in their operations.

  • Innovation driver. To implement some of the sustainability practices (e.g., moving away from using fossil fuels) companies have to review and innovate their business model, opening up new perspectives and opportunities. Those can be both untapped revenue streams, new markets, or previously unpenetrated, environmentally conscious customer segments.

  • Compliance with regulations. Countries and transnational organizations constantly increase pressure for businesses to adopt corporate sustainability practices. They apply the ‘carrot and stick’ model, by either increasing taxes, issuing fines, or, conversely, providing tax exemptions for those that implement changes.

  • Business continuation. As the definition of sustainability goes, it has long-term scope and goals, transcending the endeavors of a single generation. Blending corporate sustainability pillars into the business model lays the foundation that will stand against the test of time and ensure that the company will thrive in upcoming years and decades.

How does sustainability affect the economy?

The effect of sustainability on the economy is hard to overestimate. Three pillars of corporate sustainability ensure the fair, equitable and efficient allocation of limited resources for the benefit of society as a whole. Sustainability practices contribute to increased profitability, and this, in turn, ensures stability and continuation of sustainable companies.

Mutual requirements for environmental and societal responsibility can eventually kick off the network effects: sustainable businesses look for like-minded peers, making the whole supply chain greener and engaged in corporate sustainability. The widespread mode of conduct establishes the entrepreneurial culture, focused on sustainable development as the guiding business principle.


Three pillars of corporate sustainability establish principles upon which innovative and future-proof businesses operate. It includes reductions in waste and carbon emissions, contribution to greener and pollution-free environments, as well as the prosperity of communities both locally and globally – including employees, stakeholders, and other parties.

Sustainable actions are not the opposite of business profits – on the contrary, proper implementation of these measures strengthens the business model in the long run. On one hand, adhering to the corporate sustainability pillars enables savings and cost reduction, but at the same time companies benefit from tax exemptions and other favorable conditions.

Sustainability opens new partnerships, markets, and client segments. Instead of evaluating it as a cost, businesses should see it as an investment and opportunity to implement innovation and thrive – that is why every decision-maker should consider three pillars of corporate responsibility as a principle of every new-generation company.


What are the 3 models of sustainable development?

Environmental, societal and economic. These three pillars define corporate social responsibility and its actions toward making the environment greener, reducing the impact on the planet, and providing employees, key stakeholders, and communities suitable working and living conditions without compromising revenue and profit.

What is a company's sustainability report?

Why is sustainability important in business?


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