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What is Sustainability?

by Olivia Baker

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French and Italian.

We constantly hear about sustainability from governments, businesses, banks, shops, and even our friends, but what is it, really?

When we think about sustainability, we might think of cutting carbon emissions, government frameworks to reach certain environmental goals, big businesses campaigning their green initiatives, or even our own day-to-day impact on the environment.

There are as many roads to sustainability as there are people, businesses, and ideas. In the modern sense, sustainability is how well something (a business, lifestyle, or process) can continue at a certain rate into the future.

Pillars of Sustainability


Sustainability can be broken down into four main categories, which are known as the four pillars of sustainability. These cover everything from financial stability to taking care of the environment.

1. Human Sustainability


Human sustainability promotes human capital through things like health and education. In business, it focuses more on everyone involved in the supply chain.

2. Social Sustainability


Social sustainability promotes wellbeing and equality. It can be supported by legal frameworks or simply as shared information.

3. Economic Sustainability


The focus on economic sustainability is about improving the standard of living or profitability through the efficient use of resources.

4. Environmental Sustainability


Last but not least, is the aim to preserve natural resources. Something can be defined as environmentally sustainable when it doesn’t negatively impact the environment, wildlife, or the needs of future generations.

Sustainability in Business


Economic sustainability might be the most obvious pillar of sustainability needed for a business to succeed, but companies should at least try to incorporate all four pillars equally.

Asking questions based on these pillars is a great way to figure out how sustainable a business or project is, or can be. A couple of these questions could be:

  1. How feasible is it for me financially to run my business into the future?
  2. How can I run and grow my business without depleting natural resources with material for manufacturing, operations, and transportation?

Sustainability is directly linked to the environment, climate change, human rights, and the kind of future that will be mapped out, based on the collective decisions we make today.

If you’re interested in reading more on the topic of sustainability and business, check out our article on The Benefits of an Environmentally-friendly Business, or visit the Smallpdf blog.

If you'd like to get a head start on making your business more environmentally friendly, why not consider starting with paperless contract management with our eSign tool?

Olivia Baker
Olivia Baker
Content Writer