Sustainable Development and The 3 Pillars of Sustainability

In 1983, the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland was appointed Chairman of the Brundtland Commission. The Commission’s mandate was to: “1) re-examine the critical issues of environment and development and to formulate innovative, concrete, and realistic action proposals to deal with them; 2) strengthen international cooperation on environment and development and assess and propose new forms of cooperation that can break out of existing patterns and influence policies and events in the direction of needed change; and 3) raise the level of understanding and commitment to action on the part of individuals, voluntary organizations, businesses, institutes, and governments”.

Before officially dissolving in 1987, the Commission released a document, commonly known as the Brundtland Report, which gave us the popular definition of Sustainable Development:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It contains two key concepts:

  • the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

This definition was met with some controversy, specifically the part about solving the global poverty problem and the ‘overriding priority’ it had over the other issues. People argued that environmental sustainability should be priority number one. Because if the environmental problem isn’t solved, the other problems won’t matter due to… well… cataclysmic events and the end of the world as we know it.

The Commission’s definition also emphasized meeting humanity’s present and future ‘needs’. Unfortunately our needs have often proven to be quite hazardous to the environment. Turns out the accent wasn’t on sustainability, it was on development. Development in the sense of economic growth, which past a certain point has already proven to be… unsustainable! So the general problem of environmental sustainability remained.

It became clear that in order to tackle the complete sustainability problem, environmental issues had to have ‘overriding priority’. Fast forward to the 2005 World Summit on Social Development and the inception of The 3 Pillars of Sustainability:

  • Environmental protection
  • Social sustainability
  • Economic sustainability

In essence, sustainability implies a responsible approach that minimizes the negative environmental impact, while trying to maintain balance between all 3 ‘pillars’. Eventually 4 domains were defined as part of sustainable development – ecology, economics, politics and culture. The social and economic factors are to be constrained by the environmental factors.

Benefits of Sustainable Events

You are probably thinking that planning and organizing an event is difficult enough as it is, so why bother with the sustainable problem. Above all, because a healthy environment is necessary for the survival of all organisms. And even if you don’t care about all organisms, keep in mind that you are one of these organisms.

If you want to talk about the business side of it, here’s something to think about: sustainability should be part of your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Every enterprise has a responsibility to minimize the negative impacts their operations have on nature and society. In a perfect world organizations act on that responsibility, in reality – not so much. You can be part of the problem or part of the solution and being part of the solution has that feel-good factor that everyone appreciates!

Planning a sustainable event brings a lot of benefits to your organization:

  • encourages investors interested in working with companies with long-term sustainability plans;
  • lowers operating costs by reducing transportation costs, as well as waste, water and energy consumption;
  • creates a positive image for your organization;
  • adopting sustainable practices can be a point of difference and give you a competitive advantage; and
  • appeals to consumers who make purchase decisions based on minimizing their own footprint (there are more of us nowadays).

Here are some more ways event greening is a breath of fresh air for everyone (pun intended):

  • promotes sustainable practices that use resources more efficiently;
  • raises awareness among attendees, staff, service providers, the community, etc.;
  • inspires change and encourages people to make environmentally responsible decisions;
  • many sustainable practices can be applied to the day-to-day operations of your organization.

There’s a fair number of good reasons to go the sustainable events route. Remember that everyone needs to do their part to help the environment, so that we as a species don’t have to quickly find a way to terraform Mars.

Featured image by Tiffany Kay licensed under CC0 1.0