The three pillars of environment, society, and economy are frequently used to model how sustainability can be incorporated into an organization's mission, goals, and practices. The "three Venn" diagram is a well-recognized visualization of these pillars. Each of the pillars is considered essential for sustainable outcomes to be achieved. To date, the environmental community has effectively leveraged the sustainability movement to advance improvements in environmental outcomes, such as resource usage and emissions reductions, through increased awareness, the establishment of a collective vision, investment in innovations, and promotion of transparency.
The issues that are most often classified under the social sphere of sustainability (e.g., OSH, human rights, labor relations, community engagement, diversity, equity, benefits and compensation, the organization of work, supply chains, culture) are less understood and have gained less attention. This has led to people siloing sustainability; using the concepts of "environmental sustainability" and "social sustainability" rather than an integrated vision for sustainable outcomes. This singular focus on any one aspect of sustainability can result in unintended negative impacts (e.g., hazards to workers arising from improvements to reduce environmental impacts) or creating tension between goals (e.g., labor/environment).
Although there are many worker issues embedded within the concept of sustainability, there is a unique opportunity to advance OSH through this framework. In this context, OSH refers to the promotion of the safety, health, and welfare of workers. Utilizing a sustainability framing provides a way to reimagine approaches for protecting workers and raises new issues to explore and opportunities for innovation.
Download OSHA's white paper, Sustainability in the Workplace: A New Approach for Advancing Worker Safety and Health, to learn more.