Last edited 24 Feb 2021

Social sustainability

Sustainable development.jpg
The tripartite representation of sustainable development. Source: Wikimedia Commons


[edit] Introduction

Sustainability can be thought of as comprising three major components:

The first is probably the one that most people think of when approaching sustainability. However, although all three are core components of sustainable development, it is social sustainability which seems to receive far less attention in public discourse.

There is a school of thought that rejects the tripartite classification illustrated above because it claims that all forms of sustainability have a social dimension, including ecological, economic, political and cultural sustainability. Clearly, there are several approaches in arriving at a definition of social sustainability.

Social Life, a UK-based social enterprise specialising in place-based innovation, defines social sustainability as:

“A process for creating sustainable, successful places that promote wellbeing, by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. Social sustainability combines design of the physical realm with design of the social world – infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement, and space for people and places to evolve.”

In addition, the processes and structures developed to achieve social sustainability should meet the needs of current communities without adversely affecting the ability of future communities to meet their needs and to create thriving, healthy communities.

Elements of social sustainability can include:

[edit] Business

Social sustainability should be a critical part of any business, claims the UN Global Compact, because it affects the quality of a business’ relationships with stakeholders. Social sustainability is a proactive way of managing and identifying business impacts on employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities.

A firm’s social license to operate can depend on its efforts to achieve greater social sustainability. Companies that embrace social sustainability as part of their core business strategy tend to be cognisant of the fact that their relationships with people, communities and society are critically important. For example, a socially sustainable business will be mindful of the safety of its workforce on its premises and will ensure that both it and its employees comply with all health and safety regulations.

In contrast, a firm that oversees a system of poor social sustainability increases the risks to its brand and product quality. Consumers and the media are not generally happy when they uncover stories of workers in appalling or unsafe conditions, or being paid starvation wages. All these can damage a corporation’s brand.

Increasingly educated consumers tend to like transparent supply chains and may spend more on ‘ethicalproducts that have traceable supply networks and lower environmental impacts.

[edit] Towards more socially sustainable communities

Achieving greater social sustainability can, according to the UN Global Compact, help businesses to:

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