ABSTRACT

Sustainability and sustainability science have come to be characterized by a “tripartite model” that heuristically and epistemologically separates the subject into social, economic, and environmental dimensions. Variously called the “three pillars,” the “three-legged stool,” or the “triple-bottom line” (3BL) of sustainability, this model is a mainstream and mainstay of sustainability discussions (Global Reporting Initiative 2013; Raar 2002; Shnayder et al. 2015). 1 It has further been adopted in business management circles as a corporate social responsibility strategy to ensure long-term benefits for “profit, people, and the planet” (Elkington 1997). However, despite the model’s staying power and increasing popularity over the past three decades, it has obscured and muddied issues surrounding sustainability more than it has clarified them. At best, the model provides a way to divide complex issues into manageable categories that allow for (over-)simplified analyses. At worst, it becomes a mere public relations strategy that firms use to increase profits, under the guise of balancing goals for economic growth with wider social and environmental concerns (Norman and MacDonald 2004). In between these two poles, the concept of “sustainability” and the tools proposed for how to achieve it are increasingly politicized.