The Pillars of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development

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The Pillars of Sustainable Development



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The Pillars of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development plays an essential role in our lives. According to Mensah (2019), “Sustainable development has become the buzzword in development discourse, having been associated with different definitions, meanings and interpretations. Taken literally, SD would simply mean “development that can be continued either indefinitely or for the given period” (p.6). Mensah (2019) also stated that “Structurally, the concept can be seen as a phrase consisting of two words, “sustainable” and “development.” (p.6). “Just as each of the two words that combine to form the concept of SD, that is, “sustainable” and “development”, has been defined variously from various perspectives, the concept of SD has also been looked at from various angles, leading to a plethora of definitions of the concept” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “Although definitions abound with respect to SD, the most often cited definition of the concept is the one proposed by the Brundtland Commission Report” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “The Report defines SD as development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Mensah (2019, p.6). Mensah (2019) also stated “that SD is a core concept within global development policy and agenda and it provides a mechanism through which society can interact with the environment while not risking damaging the resource for the future” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “It is a development paradigm as well as concept that calls for improving living standards without jeopardizing the earth’s ecosystems or causing environmental challenges such as deforestation and water and air pollution that can result in problems such as climate change and extinction of species” (Mensah, 2019, p.6).  According to Purvis et al. (2019) “The three-pillar conception of (social, economic and environmental) sustainability, commonly represented by three intersecting circles with overall sustainability at the centre, has become ubiquitous” (p.1). “The organizing principle for meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). Thus, sustainable development is essential for meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems.

Sustainable development enables a country achieve economic, social and environmental prosperity. “SD aims at achieving social progress, environmental equilibrium and economic growth and exploring the demands of SD, emphasised the need to move away from harmful socio-economic activities and rather engage in activities with positive environmental, economic and social impacts” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). According to Purvis et al. (2019), “To understand the emergence of ‘sustainability’ into the mainstream in the 1980s, it is important to examine the broad roots from which the concept emerged; This is confounded by the fact that much of the work whose concepts feed into the narrative predate the language of ‘sustainability’” (p.1). “It is argued that the relevance of SD deepens with the dawn of every day because the population keeps increasing but the natural resources available for the satisfaction of human needs and wants do not” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “The last 20 years have witnessed a surge in publications on ‘sustainability’, to the extent where ‘sustainability science’ is often seen as a distinct field” (Purvis et al., 2019, p.1). “Global concerns have always been expressed for judicious use of the available resources so that it will always be possible to satisfy the needs of the present generation without undermining the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “It implies that SD is an effort at guaranteeing a balance among economic growth, environmental integrity and social well-being; This reinforces the argument that implicit in the concept of SD is intergenerational equity, which recognizes both short and the long-term implications of sustainability and SD” (Mensah, 2019, p.6). “However, it is common for people to treat sustainability and SD as analogues and synonyms but the two concepts are distinguishable” (Mensah, 2019, p.6).  “Sustainability is the goal or endpoint of a process called sustainable development while “sustainability” refers to a state, SD refers to the process for achieving this state” (Mensah (2019, p.6). E conomic sustainability and social sustainability are some of the pillars of sustainable development.

Pillars of Sustainable Development

Economic Sustainability

Economic s ustainability is one of the pillars of sustainable development. According to Mensah (2019) “E conomic sustainability implies a system of production that satisfies present consumption levels without compromising future needs” (p.10). Mensah (2019) also stated that “Traditionally, economists assuming that the supply of natural resources was unlimited, placed undue emphasis on the capacity of the market to allocate resources efficiently, and they also believed that economic growth would be accompanied by the technological advancement to replenish natural resources destroyed in the production process” (p.10). “However, it has been realized that natural resources are not infinite; besides, not all of them can be replenished or are renewable, and the growing scale of the economic system has overstretched the natural resource base, prompting a rethink of the traditional economic postulations” (Mensah, 2019, p.10); This has prompted many academicians to question the feasibility of uncontrolled growth and consumption” (Mensah, 2019, p.10). “Economies consist of markets where transactions occur and there are guiding frameworks by which transactions are evaluated and decisions about economic activities are made” (Mensah, 2019, p.10). “Three main activities that are carried out in an economy are production, distribution and consumption, but the accounting framework used to guide and evaluate the economy with regard to these activities grossly distorts values, and this does not augur well for society and the environment” (Mensah, 2019, p.10).  “Human life on earth is supported and maintained by utilizing the limited natural resources found on the earth, and due to population growth, human needs like food, clothing, housing increase, but the means and resources available in the world cannot be increased to meet the requirements forever” (Mensah, 2019, p.10).  “Furthermore, as the main concern seems to be on economic growth, important cost components like the impact of depletion and pollution, for example, are ignored while increasing demand for goods and services continues to drive markets and infringe destructive effects of the environment” (Mensah, 2019, p.10). “Economic sustainability, therefore, requires that decisions are made in the most equitable and fiscally sound way possible, while considering the other aspects of sustainability” (Mensah, 2019, p.10).  Thus, Economic sustainability is one of the pillars of sustainable development which is a system of production that satisfies present consumption levels without compromising future needs.

Social Sustainability

Social sustainability is another pillar of sustainable development. According to Mensah (2019), “Social sustainability encompasses notions of equity, empowerment, accessibility, participation, cultural identity and institutional stability” (p.11). “The concept implies that people matter since development is about people which means that social sustainability connotes a system of social organization that alleviates poverty” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). According to Eizenberg et al. (2017) “within the framework of sustainability, we propose that social sustainability strives to confront risk while addressing social concerns although without socially oriented practices, efforts to achieve sustainability will be undermined, as too many gaps exist in practice and theory” (p.1). “However, in a more fundamental sense, “social sustainability” relates to the nexus between social conditions such as poverty and environmental destruction, and in this regard, the theory of social sustainability’ posits that the alleviation of poverty should neither entail unwarranted environmental destruction nor economic instability” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). “It should aim to alleviate poverty within the existing environmental and economic resource base of the society, and at the social level, sustainability entails fostering the development of people, communities and cultures to help achieve meaningful life, drawing on proper healthcare, education gender equality, peace and stability across the globe” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). “It is argued that social sustainability is not easy to achieve because the social dimension seems complicated and overwhelming” (Mensah, 2019, p.11).  “Unlike the environmental and economic systems where flows and cycles are easily observable, the dynamics within the social system are highly intangible and cannot be easily modelled” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). “The definition of success within the social system is that “people are not subjected to conditions that undermine their capacity to meet their needs,” and social sustainability is not about ensuring that everyone’s needs are met” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). “Rather, its aims at providing enabling conditions for everyone to have the capacity to realize their needs, if they so desire” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). “Anything that impedes this capacity is considered a barrier and needs to be addressed in order for individuals, organizations or communities to make progress towards social sustainability understanding the nature of social dynamics and how these structures emerge from a systems perspective is of great importance to social sustainability” (Mensah, 2019, p.11).  “Social sustainability also encompasses many issues such as human rights, gender equity and equality, public participation and rule of law all of which promote peace and social stability for sustainable development” (Mensah, 2019, p.11). Thus, social sustainability is another pillar of sustainable development as it encompasses notions of equity, empowerment, accessibility, participation, cultural identity and institutional stability


In conclusion, sustainable development is very essential to everyone. S ustainable development enables people to balance their social, economic and environmental status and ensure that they lead succesful lives. E conomic sustainability and social sustainability are some of the pillars of sustainable development. Governments should aim to achieve sustainable development for all its citizens in order for them to have a sustainable life.




Eizenberg, E., & Jabareen, Y. (2017). Social sustainability: A new conceptual framework. Sustainability, 9(1), 68.

Mensah, J. (2019). Sustainable development: Meaning, history, principles, pillars, and implications for human action: Literature review. Cogent social sciences, 5(1), 1653531.

Purvis, B., Mao, Y., & Robinson, D. (2019). Three pillars of sustainability: in search of conceptual origins. Sustainability science, 14, 681-695.



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