Sustainability is an extremely complex topic. Most often we hear that sustainability has three legs, or pillars—environmental, social and economic—with the balanced intersection of these three representing a sustainable system. However, another depiction of sustainability is three nested circles, with the largest representing environment because both society and the economy cannot exist without it.

The organic way

According to IFOAM-Organics International, “Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.” Thus, organic agriculture and sustainability are clearly aligned.

"In these ways, organic agriculture maintains and restores natural resources that contribute to environmental sustainability."

Organic farming practices require soil-building practices, such as crop rotations, inter-cropping, cover crops, minimum tillage and fertilizers from non-petroleum sources such as compost. These practices improve soil biodiversity, increase water retention (resulting in less required irrigation), create a stable system of nutrients available to crops over time and also control soil erosion that wastes nutrients and spoils waterways.

Because synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers are not used, water pollution from fertilizer runoff is also avoided. Furthermore, these organic soil management practices contribute to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through sequestering carbon in the soil.

In these ways, organic agriculture maintains and restores natural resources that contribute to environmental sustainability. Factor in the possibilities we might reach through organic livestock management practices and an avoidance of agrochemicals made from fossil fuels, and an even clearer, cleaner vision of ecological balance comes into focus.