Sustainability continues to be a big focus for businesses worldwide. With the world population surpassing over 8 billion from 3.02 billion in 1960, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprints. This environmental awareness is, in turn, changing consumer purchasing behaviour in favour of businesses that do their part to engage in sustainable business practices. Sustainable practices can be broken into what are known as the ‘three pillars of sustainability’: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. For a business to be truly sustainable they need to take a holistic approach to their business practices that require a careful balance of each of the 3 pillars. Let’s take a look at each pillar individually before seeing how a business can incorporate sustainable design into an office fitout.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability Explained
Environmental Pillar of Sustainable Development
The environmental pillar of sustainable development is commonly known as the ‘planet’ pillar and refers to minimising our impact on the environment to preserve it for future generations. Herman Daly, an early pioneer in environmental sustainability proposed three fundamentals of being environmentally sustainable:
- For renewable resources: That the rates of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration – sustainable yield.
- For pollution: That the rates of waste generation from a project should not exceed the capacity of the environment – sustainable waste disposal.
- For non-renewable resources: that the depletion of non-renewable resources should require comparable development of renewable resources in lieu.
Of the 3 pillars of sustainability, the environmental pillar often gets the most attention with companies aiming to reduce their carbon footprints, water usage, packaging waste and overall effects on the environment.
Whether you’re a big or small business there’s plenty of ways you can make an impact on environmental sustainability that aren’t capital intensive. Instead, start small, aim to go paperless, encourage your employees to commute via public transportation, practice car-pooling, and start an office compost bin.
Social Pillar of Sustainable Development
The social pillar of sustainable development is a focus on ‘people’. Sustainable businesses have the support of their employees, customers, stakeholders and the community in which they operate. In practice, modern-day businesses need to be increasingly aware of how their actions reflect on those around them in order to be a good neighbour both locally and globally.
- Engaging in hiring practices that focus on retention and engagement including learning and development opportunities, maternity and paternity benefits, and flexible work arrangements.
- Giving back to your community through community outreach initiatives, scholarship programs, mentoring and supporting your local NPOs.
- Reflecting on how your business’ services and products are sourced. Are they manufactured and delivered ethically?
Research continues to show that businesses that engage in social sustainability are perceived better by their consumers, attract better talent, and in turn, see increased profitability.
Economic Pillar of Sustainable Development
The economic pillar or ‘profit pillar’ is one that most businesses are familiar with. In essence, it’s ensuring a business remains profitable throughout its operations. However, profitability for a business cannot come at all costs, and when it does the social and environmental pillars are in turn affected.
The economic pillar of sustainable development is thus more than just about ensuring a business remains profitable, but rather that a business practices proper governance, risk management and compliance. While there are governing bodies in Australia overseeing corporate governance, this is not necessarily the case on a global scale. For a business to succeed in the economic pillar, it’s management must align with the interests of both shareholders and stakeholders as a whole.
Economic Business Change
The economic pillar ensures businesses operate with sustainable strategies and governance in mind. Some key considerations for economic sustainable development include:
- Ensuring accurate and transparent accounting
- Providing a means for shareholders to vote for company directors and leadership
- Avoiding conflicts of interest, illegal practices, or profiting through political means.
- The assessment of business operations and the economic risks to society as a whole (i.e. the effects of the Global Financial Crisis)
Sustainable Design and the Fitout Process
So, how do three pillars of sustainable development tie together in the fitout industry? Whether you’re in the market for a new office fitout, building or renovating a home, or are interested in incorporating actionable sustainable ideas into your everyday business practices, there’s a lot you can do to work towards sustainability in a meaningful manner.
Recent trends in the construction and fitout industries have seen a greater push towards sustainable design ideas. Key changes in the industry include a focus on using renewable energy such as solar power, the harvesting and recycling of rainwater, and using more natural and sustainable materials in the design process, in an effort to become more carbon neutral.
For the social pillar, designing your fitout for employee wellbeing – shared workspaces, open and airy work environments, more natural lighting all work towards a business’s social sustainability. Social design changes that you make through the office design process can lay the foundations for happy and engaged employees and in turn secure and healthy communities
Every fitout needs to be economically viable, as a business it’s difficult to focus on the environmental or social aspects if the financial costs are unsustainable.
Some economic design choices to consider in a fitout include:
- the upfront costs of materials vs. the long-term costs of maintenance
- sustainable material choice vs. the lifespan of these materials
- design choice vs. actual and perceived value
Each of the 3 pillars of sustainable development plays a vital role in sustainable business practices. Businesses that tend to focus on one pillar tend to find that there is a diminishing return on investment. Whereas businesses that take a holistic approach and instead aim for business practices that encompass all 3 pillars of sustainability are most likely to find that perfect middle ground.
Want To Know More?
Are you interested to learn more about the three pillars of sustainability and how the team at Future Fitouts incorporates sustainable design practices into our entire fitout solutions? Get in touch with our friendly team today and see how we create workplaces where people want and love coming to work!