Man Facing Solar Panels

What Is Sustainability?

We hear the term ‘sustainable’ being used a lot these days. For many people, it brings up images of eco-consciousness, such as buying local products, reducing single-use plastic, or recycling. But there’s so much more to sustainability. Being sustainable isn’t only about protecting the environment, but also fighting for a more fair and equitable future for everyone.

When it comes to us as individuals, and as business owners, sustainability is about making choices that help protect our planet, enrich our communities, and provide us with a consistent income to sustain our lifestyles.

In 1987, the Brutland Report defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of¬†future generations¬†to meet their own needs”.

A definition that I prefer is one that was used during my course at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership:

Sustainability – Definition
The long-term wellbeing for all people and planet (UN, n.d.).

Triple Bottom Line


The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a concept that introduced the idea that businesses and organizations should not only focus on financial profits but also consider their social and environmental impacts.

The triple bottom line is also known as the 3 Ps:

  1. Profit (Economic Bottom Line): The traditional measure of business success. How much money it makes.
  2. People (Social Bottom Line): The social and human impacts of a business, such as employee well-being, community engagement, and the overall positive impact on society.
  3. Planet (Environmental Bottom Line): The environmental impact of the business, such as carbon footprint, pollution and waste.

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line was coined by John Elkington in 1994 in his book “Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.” Elkington argued that businesses should be accountable for not only economic profits but also their social and environmental responsibilities. The TBL framework encourages businesses to adopt a more comprehensive and sustainable approach, taking into account the broader impacts of their actions on people, and the planet, as well as their profits.

UN Sustainable Development Goals


In 2015, the United Nations Member States collectively embraced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, outlining a common vision for peace and prosperity for all people and the planet. Central to this agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as a pressing call to action for nations worldwide.

These goals acknowledge the interconnected nature of addressing poverty, the need for advancements in health and education, the reduction of inequality, and the promotion of economic growth. Simultaneously, they underscore the importance of tackling climate change and safeguarding our oceans and forests, signifying a global commitment to a shared and sustainable future.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be grouped into three core categories or layers, sometimes represented as a wedding cake (created by the Stockholm Resilience Centre). The wedding cake model presents the SDGs as a tiered cake, with each layer representing a different earth system (biosphere, society and economy).

  1. Biosphere
    This foundational layer covers the primary environmental goals. These include life on land, life below water, climate action, and clean water and sanitation.
  2. Society
    On the societal level, goals include reducing inequalities, clean energy, peace and justice, reduced poverty, access to education and sustainable cities and communities.
  3. Economy
    On the top layer, we have the economy. These are the goals link to economic growth, innovation, consumption and production.

While the SDGs may focus individually on targeted areas for development, they are all seen as being interconnected.

What does this have to do with photographers?

As a photographer, you not only have the ability to help build a future that supports long-term wellbeing for all people and the planet by building a sustainable and responsible photography business, but you can also use your photography to tell impactful stories that can help shape a better future.

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