We explain what sustainability is, and its difference with sustainable development. In addition, we discuss Triple Bottom Line Companies, and more.

Sustainability is the responsible use of actual resources.

What is sustainability?

Environmental sustainability is the use of natural resources available at the present time in a way that it does not compromise future generations.

The principles governing environmental sustainability are:

  • Not using renewable resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished.
  • Not using nonrenewable resources until they are exhausted and, if possible, replacing them with renewable resources.
  • Not generating pollutants at a faster rate than their neutralization, recycling, or natural disintegration time.
  • Carrying out production practices that are respectful of the natural, social, and cultural environment of the community and the workers involved.

Thus, a production process is considered sustainable if it respects available resources, and manages the substances and waste it generates with the least possible impact on the environment. Moreover, it often involves social development contributing to improving the quality of life of people.

Characteristics of sustainability

The main characteristics of sustainability are:

  • The use and extraction of natural resources preventing their depletion.
  • Pollution emission control and waste management.
  • Constant improvement for the optimal use of resources and environmental care.
  • The promotion of actions aimed at improving the quality of life for present and future generations.

Difference between sustainability and sustainable development

Sustainable use of natural resources ensures their preservation for future generations.

Although the terms sustainability and sustainable development are related concepts, they refer to different things:

  • Sustainability. Sustainability is the use of actual resources that does not threaten future generations. Sustainable production processes seek to observe and study natural cycles in order to generate the least possible environmental impact, thus preserving, protecting, and conserving natural resources for present and future generations.
  • Sustainable development. In addition to raising awareness of the importance of natural resources and the need to manage them sustainably at the global level, a sustainable process also implies social development that contributes to improving the quality of life, health, education, and culture of all members of the community.

The concept of sustainability focuses on the ecological aspect, whereas sustainable development also centers on the social aspect.

Corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concept that emerged in the late 1980s and refers to the way in which corporations operate on the basis of social welfare and environmental care.

CSR means that the company's organization operates and achieves its goals while maintaining good business practices, namely, securing the welfare of its employees, optimizing the use of resources, and avoiding environmental pollution. In order to encourage companies to take on this responsibility, governments often offer tax incentives.

Among the actions that companies typically perform within the framework of CSR are the implementation of environmental sustainability programs, the promotion of fair and safe labor practices, investment in the community, and the adoption of ethical production practices that respect both the environment and people.

CSR often has a positive impact on companies themselves by enhancing their reputation, attracting and retaining customers, and fostering relationships with their community through more environmentally and socially sustainable practices.

B Corporations or Triple Bottom Line Companies

Trabajador de industria sustentable
Triple Bottom Line establishes a new paradigm for corporate success.

The concept of "B Corporations" or "Triple Bottom Line Companies" establishes a new model in which business success is redefined: companies seek to be not only the most successful financially but also socially and environmentally sustainable.

The triple bottom line determines the success of a business based on the fulfillment of three unified objectives:

  • Economic. It is concerned with generating profit as a vital goal for every business while not sacrificing and depleting human and natural resources.
  • Social. It involves assessing a business’ societal impact, including multiple factors such as ensuring the product or service provides a public benefit, as well as non-discriminatory hiring practices, and fair wage policies.
  • Environmental. It concerns corporate awareness and responsibility for the impact that production has on the environment. Corporate actions must contemplate natural resources and environmental conservation while generating profits. Furthermore, it must periodically publish performance and environmental impact reports.

Thus, businesses should not only seek to maximize financial profit, but also address the social and environmental issues of the community. In this sense, the new paradigm of sustainable corporations means that the production system must be balanced and should be held accountable for its actions, and that society, in turn, must also be aware and responsible for its own consumption.

The concept of B Corporations emerged in the United States in 2007 by the initiative of Jay Coen, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy, who set up the nonprofit organization B Lab and promoted legislative changes that made the new business paradigm possible. They also established a sustainability certification system under ISO standards for companies through a free online tool.

Explore next:


  • Bachmann, L. (2011). Recursos naturales y servicios ambientales. Reflexiones sobre tipos de manejo. En R. Gurevich (Comp.), ​Ambiente y educación. Una apuesta al futuro (pp. 75-122). Paidós.
  • Comisión Económica para América Latina. (s.f.). Acerca de Desarrollo Sostenible.
  • Reyna, A. (2021). ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre sustentabilidad y sostenibilidad?. BBVA.
  • Responsabilidad Social Empresarial y Sustentabilidad. (2022). Empresas de triple impacto: qué son, pilares y ejemplos.

How to cite

Citing the original source of information serves to duly credit authors and avoid plagiarism. Furthermore, it allows readers to have access to the original sources used in a text to verify or expand on information if necessary.

To cite properly, we recommend doing so according to APA standards, which are international standard guidelines followed by leading academic and research institutions worldwide.

SPOSOB, Gustavo. "Sustainability".
Encyclopedia of Humanities. 23 February, 2024,

About the author

Author: Gustavo Sposob

Bachelor degree in Geography for Middle and Higher education (UBA).

Translated by: Marilina Gary

Degree in English Language Teaching (Juan XXIII Institute of Higher Education, Bahía Blanca, Argentina).

Updated on: 23 February, 2024
Posted on: 19 February, 2024

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