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The evolution of sustainability models, from descriptive, to strategic, to the three pillars framework for applied solutions


The three pillars of sustainability framework is an applied and solutions oriented approach to sustainable development, which at the broadest and most important scale supports the creation of new economic and political institutions that embed (from start to finish) the key inputs, stakeholders, and incentive structures necessary for sustainability planning and projects to be feasible and successful. The three pillars framework is based upon the key and connected roles of: (1) technology and innovation; (2) laws and governance; and (3) economics and financial incentives. Through the lens of a review of the evolution of sustainability models over the last several decades, it is proposed that the three pillars framework can more effectively help us translate complex sustainability issues into ideas and an applied focus that can be better understood and acted upon by community and economic stakeholders. This, combined with full transparency, creates the necessary, and often sufficient, foundation for successful, scalable, more rapidly deployable, and culturally acceptable sustainability solutions. As demonstrated in practice and in numerous case studies, sustainability solutions that engage all three pillars at once—good governance, technology implementation, and creating market incentives—are most effective and durable.

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Clune, W.H., Zehnder, A.J.B. The evolution of sustainability models, from descriptive, to strategic, to the three pillars framework for applied solutions. Sustain Sci 15, 1001–1006 (2020).

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