Sustainability: What is it and how to approach it?

By Alfonso Antonio Hernández Vivanco (University of Barcelona)

What is sustainability?

The definition of sustainable development is multifaceted and relatively easy to understand, although more difficult to implement. According to the United Nations, sustainable development consists of “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Thus, sustainable development has become the fundamental principle for long-term global development. Therefore, sustainability consists of three pillars known as the triple bottom line: economic development, social development, and environmental protection. At the macro level, these pillars are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations to lead the world towards a more sustainable future.


• Equality
• Inclusion
• Diversity
• Health and Safety
• Community Participation
• Etc.


• Waste
• Water
• Energy
• Greenhouse Gases
• Pollution
• Biodiversity
• Product Circularity
• Etc.


• Growth
• Profitability
• Liquidity
• Brand Value
• Asset Management
• Return on Investment
• Etc.

What is the first step towards Sustainability in an organization?

The first step is to understand that a sustainable organization does not solely consider profitability as the primary objective of its operations. Instead, the three aspects of the triple bottom line must be balanced: economic (obviously), but also environmental and social. This entails a thorough understanding of the needs and impacts on all stakeholders of the organizations. These stakeholders include both internal parties, such as employees, managers, and shareholders, as well as external ones, such as suppliers, the community, customers, the environment, the government, among others.

How to approach Sustainability?

This can vary depending on various factors such as the type of business, the size of the company, market realities, social and environmental impacts, etc. However, generally speaking, an organization can orient itself towards sustainability by applying an approach of innovation and continuous improvement to satisfy stakeholders.

To do this, it is recommended to apply the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, always taking into account the three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental, and social).

The first phase, planning, is undoubtedly the most critical when starting out in sustainability. To do this, it is recommended to conduct a preliminary assessment analysis to determine the current state and generate a plan from there to strengthen competitive advantages and address weaker points where corrective actions are needed.

In this phase, it is essential to guide the organization towards the SDGs, with a vision clearly oriented towards meeting the needs of stakeholders. Based on this, concrete actions should be proposed to address the three axes of the triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social.

In the second phase, resources, actions, and activities must be deployed to implement the strategic plan outlined by the company. Subsequently, in the measurement phase, it is important for organizations to define indicators that allow monitoring implementation towards the sustainable objectives set out in the planning phase.

Finally, the Act phase refers to taking measures to correct any deviation or non-conformity. In this phase, it is very important to focus on continuous improvement. There is no foolproof plan or perfect company, so there is always room for improvement. This should be the spirit to plan new measures and thus return to the beginning of a new Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

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