The discourse surrounding sustainable development often revolve around the "three pillars of sustainability," which are: social, environment, and economic.
The model (Figure A below) proposes that sustainability lies in the intersections of these three factors. It makes a lot of sense when drafting management plans or perhaps any plan (that utilizes physical/natural resources) to consider these aspects. What is the impact on the environment? How is this model financially feasible? Is it inclusive, participatory and equitable? etc.
However, perhaps a more accurate and realistic model, in regards to these three factors, is in thinking that they are not independent of each other with slight intersecting parts, but rather that they are embedded into one another (Model B above). The economy is a purely anthropocentric social construction that deals with human interactions of material prosperity through production and consumption. It simply does not exist without human social dynamics. However, our social world is constructed by the environment around us. Perhaps our displacement from the "idea" of the natural world (especially those of us in urban areas) blinds us to this fact, but historically our cultures have developed based on the availability and vicinity of certain natural resources (regional specialties, inland vs coastal cities, etc.). It still does, just with more intermediary parts (tin mined in Borneo, processed in China, foil used in the U.S.). Each embedded circle emphasizes the point that economic growth must take into account the limiting socio-ecological factors that are inherent to our reality. Overextending economic concerns and values over environmental and social values for example, is not sustainable.
I've always been taught about sustainability in terms of Figure 1, but it's interesting to look at it from the perspective of figure B. Though I think both has its uses (Figure A certainly appeals more to the creation of management plans), Figure B, in my mind, is a better visual for thinking about our relationship with the environment and adapting these ideas into our own personal philosophies/approach to life.
Which model do you like better?