In the broadest sense, sustainability refers to the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. In business and policy contexts, sustainability seeks to prevent the depletion of natural or physical resources, so that they will remain available for the long term.

3 Pillars of Sustainability

The idea of sustainability is often broken down into three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.

In that breakdown, the concept of  economic sustainability focuses on conserving the natural resources that provide physical inputs for economic production, including both renewable and exhaustible inputs.

The concept of environmental sustainability adds greater emphasis on the life support systems, such as the atmosphere or soil, that must be maintained for economic production or human life to even occur. In contrast, social sustainability focuses on the human effects of economic systems, and the category includes attempts to eradicate poverty and hunger, as well as to combat inequality.