The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


Sustainable development in the 21st century has utilized an array of metrics to evaluate the success of cities and nations in three conventionally defined pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. Inspired by Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line, the success of nations dedicated to sustainable development has been characterized by targets achieved within these pillars, as most recently and cohesively defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The paper argues that these pillars (a) fail to successfully bridge the gap between sustainable targets and the principles guiding sustainability; (b) engenders the consequence of preferential “weight” being attributed unevenly between the three dimensions; and further that the goal framework (c) exhibits unique interrelationships that, when characterized, may better directly address the aligned challenges. The improvement upon this 3-pillar understanding is paramount to successfully planning sustainable development practices with the aim of long-term impact. This is emphasized by the analysis of the United Nations SDGs, the dominant framework guiding modern sustainable progress. These lines of reasoning will contribute to more successful sustainable development and policymaking.