What is the Economic Pillar of Sustainability?

Image2When it comes to sustainability, we know there are what we call the three pillars of sustainability:
1. People (that’s you and me and protecting our health)
2. Planet (aka the environment)
3. Profits.

It’s pretty easy to comprehend what the “people” and “planet” pillars are all about but the “profits” pillar is not so easy to understand.

Does it mean a company, like yours and mine, should make less money?  No it does not.
Does it mean a company must share most or all its profits with its employees or the local community?

Once again no.

Does it mean that profits cannot undermine the other two pillars?  Now we are getting closer.

The truth is, the profits pillar can have a variety of definitions depending on the company or industry involved, what it sells, the services it offers, etc.  A good example of the profits pillar is the one set forth a good decade ago by the then CEO of Walmart, Lee Scott. The profits pillar, as it applies to Walmart is “to sell products that sustain people and the environment.”

How Walmart Made it Practical

For instance, beginning in 2011, the company put much greater emphasis on marketing fresh produce, helping to steer customers away from often fatting and less nutritional processed foods.  They also found ways to reduce the costs of healthier foods. The company committed to opening up to 300 stores that serve USDA-designated deserts.  These are lower calorie deserts that help replace fat laden deserts.
As a result of their efforts, Walmart is a recipient of the Partnership for a Healthier America Award.  And we should mention, as a result of this and other sustainability efforts, the company has been able to reduce operating costs by more than $1 billion since 2005.

Other examples of the profits pillar could include the following:

• Local businesses that support other local businesses, which can generate considerable economic benefits for the entire community

• Companies that make sure profits at any costs, no matter how they may impact the environment, people, or the community are avoided

• We need a sustainable economic model that ensures fair distribution and efficient allocation of our resources. This pillar ensures that our economic growth maintains a healthy balance with our ecosystem

• Compliance with government regulations, especially those that pertain to the safety of its workers and those living in the community

• Fair treatment of employees along with benefits such as health care benefits

• Using profits to initiate new sustainability programs and initiatives

• Implementing “fair trade” practices, such as the purchasing of coffee and produce that do not take advantage of farmers and producers in the developing world

• Implementing strategies that focus on business efficiencies and improving worker productivity.


Stephen Ashkin is Chief Executive Officer of The Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC.   The Sustainability Dashboard is an advance reporting system designed for business owners, managers, and property developers to measure and monitor energy, water, fuel consumption and other metrics and is specifically designed to reduce environmental impacts, save money, and create a culture of sustainability.  He may be reached at Steve@green2sustainable.com