The sustainable development concept owes its name to the Brundtland Report drafted in 1987. It is based on three fundamental pillars: social, economic and environmental .
The Brundtland Report was drawn up as part of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987.
This over 300-page document aimed to shape national policies and sets out the key measures to be integrated in order to protect the planet. . Officially entitled “Our Common Future”, it is commonly referred to as the “Brundtland Report” after Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway at the time and Chair of the commission. The concept of sustainable development was referred to for the first time in this report.
✅ The term “sustainable development” was incorrectly translated in French as “développement durable”. It was corrected in later editions of the document to “développement soutenable”. However, the initial translation has been adopted and currently remains the most widely used term.
The definition is as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”.
It can be applied to corporate policy in the business world and encompasses three key areas: economic, environmental and social. Therefore, to meet the definition of sustainable development, a company must be economically efficient, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. Social sustainability must be an objective, the economic sustainability is the means and environmental sustainability a condition
The social pillar of a company's sustainable development is about upholding values that promote fairness and respect for individual rights. The social consequences of the company's activity are then assessed in terms of these issues. The principles upon which this pillar is founded are as follows:
This pillar is based on companies’ ability to develop a responsible economic system. In other words, they must encourage and promote the protection of the environment by limiting the risks posed by their production. The recycling of products and the use of renewable raw materials are therefore fundamental aspects of the economic pillar.
Furthermore, the ISO 50001 standard which is focused on energy management, aims to improve energy performance, with a view to reducing consumption and therefore costs.. Effective application of this standard leads to certification, serving as a guarantee of optimal energy use.
The environmental pillar is founded on a commitment to protect the environment by reducing risks and measuring the environmental impacts of companies' activities. The challenges for companies in this area are as follows:
Companies must then set targets to improve their performance on environmental issues. These goals are an integral part of corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR).
The three pillars that define sustainable development are generally represented using a diagram to provide a clearer understanding of the issues involved and the links between them.
A fourth pillar is often acknowledged, that of culture. In reality, culture is central to the notion of sustainable development since it incorporates the three fundamental aspects of sustainable development described above.
The Brundtland Report made economic growth, social inclusion and environmental balance central to its model for use in local, national and global development strategies. However, these aspects alone cannot account for the full complexity of our current societies.
Organisations and events such as UNESCO or the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) have therefore advocated for culture to be included in this model. Culture is a complementary factor in the sense that it shapes our meaning of “development” and determines the actions of communities around the world.
The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) define therelationship between culture and sustainable development in two specific ways:
The world is not only facing economic, social and environmental challenges. Creativity, knowledge and diversity are all key elements for establishing dialogue to promote peacebuilding and progress. These values are intrinsically linked to the notions of human development and freedom.
The world’s cultural challenges are too important to be considered in the same way as the other three original aspects of development. This fourth pillar is strongly linked with the other three dimensions of development, and is complementary to each of them.
✅ Culture is thus a driver of social values (cohesion, solidarity, fundamental freedom, etc.), it contributes to global economic sustainability and is as important as the environment to humankind because of the heritage it represents.
As previously discussed, culture should be integrated into the pillars of sustainable development predominantly because it encompasses social and economic dimensions. But that is not the only reason, culture can also be employed as an effective strategy to support the three fundamental pillars. It plays a socially-binding and facilitating role in the face of economic, societal and environmental challenges.
Furthermore, the culture of sustainable development (its foundations, its history, its evolution) is often overlooked within companies. And yet, raising awareness of this culture would provide a better understanding of the issues at stake when implementing management policy (particularly in terms of corporate social responsibility) and encourage greater involvement with it.
Finally, culture can have a positive impact within a company insofar as it unifies and consolidates human activities, i.e. “the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group [...]”: an essential element of the company's overall dynamic.
It could therefore be said that sustainable development is not defined by three fundamental pillars, but through four major dimensions: social, economic, environmental and cultural.
The approach of implementing these four pillars within your company can only be beneficial for the smooth running of your business and for adopting a responsible management policy (CSR).
Governance that epitomises social values is conducive to the well-being of your employees and associates. A company is more likely to prosper if its employees feel happy in their work. They will certainly stay with the team longer and the work dynamic will be better. For a company, taking ethical action means implementing a reference model of good practices for a more virtuous society.
Adopting a more responsible approach to production by encouraging recycling, limiting waste and using renewable raw materials can considerably reduce your current expenditure. Better resource management and the integration of waste into a second line of production or sales channel are good practices for optimising your budget.
Integrating environmental targets into the management of your company is essential from a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective. Already a legal obligation for companies with over 500 employees, a CSR strategy is also recommended for other businesses that want to invest in an eco-friendly way while improving their brand image.
Cultural integration is an essential facet of any company. A unifying force, culture helps to build real social ties, which results in more dynamic exchanges, better group work and, therefore, an increase in the productivity of your employees. Moreover, culture boosts motivation and intellectual stimulation. It thus improves the individual performance of your company's stakeholders.
To help you implement sustainable development practices within your company, Greenly has provided below some examples of practical actions that can be taken for each fundamental pillar.