What Are the Key Principles of Sustainability?

The principles of sustainability differ based on who you ask. Some people refer to the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. However, on their own, these pillars provide foundations but not definitive statements that can serve as principles for sustainable living. To fill this gap, many people turn to the work of Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founding father of the Sustainability Labs. His proposed framework identifies the following five principles.

1. The Material Domain

The material domain principle calls on entities to reduce entropy and improve the distribution of resources within and outside of an economy. Put simply, the material domain focuses on efficiency by reducing waste and improving performance.

Consider food waste as an example of this. Americans waste roughly 31% of the entire food supply. By applying the material domain, consumers might reconsider how many perishable items they purchase each trip to the grocery store. Similarly, companies might improve logistics to reduce retail waste.

2. The Domain of Life

The domain of life principle calls on people and organizations to consider biodiversity when making policy decisions for sustainability. Some efforts that fall in line with this include environmental stewardship programs and reducing human encroachment into certain areas.

This principle is currently playing out in California as environmentalists work tirelessly to protect the famous Joshua trees in its desert regions. Scientists believe that by 2100, Southern California might lose all its Joshua trees. This would affect thousands of animals that rely on the slow-growing tree for food and shelter.

3. The Economic Domain

The economic domain principle calls for the adoption of an accounting system that helps to align human consumption with the earth’s natural regenerative cycle. This sustainability principle might include revising taxation policies to encourage more favorable environmental outcomes.

Stanford estimates that by 2052, 2060, and 2090, the planet will run out of oil, gas and coal, respectively. If governments aligned taxation policies better with making it easier for consumers and companies to invest in alternative energy sources, it could radically slow the depletion rate.

4. The Social Domain

The social domain principle advocates for human self-realization and freedom, without impacting the rights and freedoms of other groups. The polarization in American politics and in many other countries around the world might imply that this is impossible. However, building an inclusive society is possible if people work together and compromise.

Dr. Ben-Eli makes the following recommendations for social sustainability:

  • Prioritizing tolerance as a cultural and social cornerstone
  • Creating an effective, democratic system of governance
  • Relying on collaborative efforts to manage crises
  • Promoting literacy and education

5. The Spiritual Domain

The spiritual domain principle encourages human acknowledgment of the great mysteries of life, as well as embracing the great unknown. This principle transcends life on earth and extends to the mysteries in the rest of the galaxy and beyond.

The spiritual domain advocates for finding the purpose of human existence and helping humans to fulfill that purpose in our corner of the galaxy or at a smaller scale in our communities and families. It also advocates for a more reverent treatment of the earth and its resources.

The five core principles create a skeletal structure that individuals, private organizations and government bodies can use when tackling environmental problems. This ensures a comprehensive approach to all sustainability efforts.

Sources:

  1. https://sustainabilitylabs.org/assets/img/SL5CorePrinciples.pdf
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/americas-food-waste-problem
  3. https://mahb.stanford.edu/library-item/fossil-fuels-run/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/joshua-trees-moths-threatened-climate-change-scientists-seek-solutions/

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