Social Sustainability is one of the three disciplines of sustainability: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability. Another way to describe the disciplines is “people, profit, and planet” to represent “social, economic, and environment” as the 3 pillars of sustainability. Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Therefore, social sustainability is an important part of sustainability.
Over the past year, pervasive challenges have undermined poverty reduction and inclusive growth, thus negatively impacting social sustainability. Most recently, COVID-19 and the associated economic crisis have reversed progress and revealed long-standing systemic inequalities and exclusion which is projected to increase extreme poverty by between 73 and 117 million people.
In this article, we are going to discuss what social sustainability is, why social sustainability is important and the ways in which social sustainability can be facilitated. Although the environment is the pervasive consideration of sustainability; it is important to also consider social sustainability as an important sustainability pillar.
Why is social sustainability important?
Social sustainability matters for individuals, society, and organisations (including businesses), all of which have the capacity to shape change, and benefit from it. Although the primary concern of social sustainability should be on human welfare, social sustainability can also benefit organisations.
For example, organisations that prioritise social sustainability will benefit from more loyal employees and suppliers as they will feel more respected and safer. In addition to this, businesses generally don’t thrive when society struggles as unequal societies reduce economic growth in the long term, thus reinforcing the impact social sustainability has on economic sustainability as well.
What can your organisation do to achieve social sustainability?
A fantastic way to begin promoting social sustainability is by thinking about it in terms of stakeholders (people who affect or are affected by an organization). There are stakeholders inside a company (or within its supply chain), such as employees, and suppliers. Outside stakeholders include consumers, the local community and broader society.
By thinking about social sustainability in terms of your organisational stakeholders, you can begin to enact strategies that can positively affect these groups, thus positively impacting social sustainability. For example, companies can encourage employee volunteering days and engage in charitable gift-giving for worthwhile causes. Other companies also encourage people to dispose of their unwanted stuff.
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What are some important ways in which social responsibility can be facilitated and maintained?
Below we discuss some key areas that impact social sustainability. It must be noted that whilst the areas discussed will shed light on political and societal factors that can help to facilitate social sustainability, ways to promote social sustainability are not limited to the discussed areas.
1. Social sustainability is about inclusive and resilient societies
Social sustainability promotes inclusive and resilient societies. Within such societies, governments listen and respond to issues raised by citizens, helping to support economic growth and poverty reduction. Quality of life is a huge topic and covers many aspects of things that affect our living qualities. For example, affordable housing, physical & mental medical support, education training opportunities, employment opportunities, access to support, and of course safety and security.
Social sustainability is highly interlinked with economic and environmental sustainability. In the past, emphasis was not placed on social sustainability and environmental sustainability but on economic sustainability. However, with increasing concerns over climate change and increasing awareness of the challenges of inequality, and racial discrimination, social sustainability has been rightfully recognised as central to poverty reduction and growth.
2. Equality is an important pillar in social sustainability
Promoting social inclusivity not only has the intrinsic merit of uplifting the lives of millions of people but also contributes to economic development and environmental protection within society. Studies have found that when people are granted their fundamental rights, this promotes mental and physical well-being that increases citizens' input to society and reduces crimes. In addition to this, empowering more people, like women, to enter the workforce uplifts the economy.
Persistent discrimination and exclusion of the most marginalized come at a high cost to both people and the economy. For example, globally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality is estimated at $160.2 trillion, reinforcing the importance of equality in the promotion of social sustainability.
Policies need to be created to promote equality and inclusion for all groups within society in order to promote social sustainability. This will increase personal well-being for individuals, which will in turn positively impact economic growth for the wider society.
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3. Democracy & Governance play an important role in the promotion of social sustainability
Good governance has long been recognized to be a critical tool for advancing sustainable development and a crucial element to be incorporated into sustainable development strategies.
Good governance is vital in promoting and sustaining social sustainability. This means having a long-term commitment to an open, transparent process of involving and consulting stakeholders, and bringing sustainable development strategies closer to local communities and individuals. Furthermore, it is vital that governance ensure budget and resources are adequate to sustain sustainability programs and the ability to measure it in the promotion of social sustainability.
4. Businesses and corporations play an important role in promoting social sustainability
Due to their higher resources, businesses are uniquely capable of increasing social change. One large company could provide resources that promote social sustainability.
Socially responsible companies can help to achieve positive impacts on society and the environment in numerous ways. For example, by engaging in charitable giving and by giving their time up, companies can help to make a positive impact on charitable causes, which can help to promote social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Another way businesses can promote social sustainability is by focusing on their internal stakeholders, by emphasising that employee rights are of material importance in the supply chain and are not secondary to financial goals.
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