When most people hear the word “sustainability”, the environment is likely the first thing they think of. But true sustainability cannot be achieved if it is viewed through a narrow lens. As we have explored in our blogs throughout this Earth Month, Sustainability is made of three equally important pillars: Environmental, Social and Economic. When we have three pillars of equal importance, we must understand and acknowledge how they all intersect and rely upon one another. If we wish to improve one pillar, we must work to improve all pillars.
For those born into privilege, social and economic sustainability are topics that can often be ignored. And while many that possess this outlook can also ignore the importance of environmental sustainability, there is no denying that the long-term effects of climate change will impact the livelihoods of all people – regardless of social or economic standing. With that said, however, it will be the most vulnerable people across the world that bear the biggest brunt of climate change impacts.
Historically marginalized groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, migrant workers, and others often face both social discrimination and economic distress. People that face these socioeconomic challenges currently struggle with access to clean water, food security, adequate healthcare, and many other factors that will only worsen in the event of climate related crises. It should also be noted that making environmentally sustainable choices is not always accessible for poor and marginalized groups. The counterintuitive reality is that environmentally sustainable options in our daily life can be expensive and unavailable in certain regions. As it stands now, solar power, electric vehicles, compostable packaging, etc. are all options that are more expensive than their less sustainable counterparts. Without well thought out and inclusive policies that address the large-scale changes that need to take place, climate change mitigation measures, as well as inaction, will continue to be a high financial burden on poor households.
In order to truly address issues that face both Environmental and Economic sustainability, we must improve all of our systems of societal function by making them more equitable and diverse. If we are to truly attack issues that face all communities, we must engage all communities by creating an even playing field. It is critical that all people are brought along in the decision-making process when it comes to climate change solutions. Transparency and access to information, community engagement and investments in green growth solutions that are offered to historically marginalized groups will create an opportunity to positively uplift all three of these pillars. Diverse communities bring unique perspectives, skills, and knowledge that can help us collectively address climate change. The changes that can come from these initiatives can create new policies and jobs that can uplift economies around the world. Finite natural resource mining does not create long-term economic sustainability, but new necessary changes can.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at the total impact of the pillars of sustainability. This is such a multifaceted topic that we hope you have become more interested in during this Earth Month. Take a look below some of our favorite local organizations that are focused on these different forms of sustainability.