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Social Sustainability – QUICK Guide

What is social sustainability? Why is it important? What is social sustainability in business? what are examples of social sustainability? How can we be more proactive regarding social issues? Read on!

Key Takeaways

  • Social sustainability focuses on community well-being, equity, and resilience.
  • It involves creating inclusive opportunities and addressing inequalities.
  • Supports people in developing their solutions and improving their social environment.

Social sustainability is one of the 3 pillars of sustainability (the 3 Ps), also known as the 3 E’s of sustainable development, and is an aspect that often gets less attention as compared to environmental sustainability. We sometimes tend to forget it because it seems quite complex and confusing.

Social Sustainability Guide
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What is social sustainability?

Social sustainability can be defined as an aspect of sustainability that relates to people. It can also be defined as “satisfying the current generation’s needs without compromising the future generation’s ability to satisfy their needs”. Additionally, it can be defined as a way of ensuring that humans have everything they need now and in the future.

Whichever the case, social sustainability, leverages emotional sustainability to focus on ensuring that human beings meet their needs.

What is Social Sustainability

Social wellbeing is a notion that often gets a lot of attention today. There are several ideas that account for social wellbeing. Social wellbeing is influenced by the following elements:

  • Health
  • Personal relationships
  • Safety
  • Living standards
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Achievements
  • Environment and services
  • Prosperity

The idea of social sustainability is not just about providing for our social wellbeing. It’s about sustaining a good level of social wellbeing. There are several social aspects that are key to social wellbeing. These may include

  • Equity
  • Understanding
  • Inclusion
  • Opportunity
  • Individual empowerment 

It is important to consider how these factors will be maintained as we continue to experience changes in the social environment – now and in the future.

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Things you should know

social sustainability and the 3 Ps

Over the previous year, prevalent challenges have hindered poverty reduction and inclusive growth. As of late, the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic crisis have undermined progress to end long-lasting systemic inequalities and exclusion.

The crisis was found to have increased extreme poverty by between 73 and 117 million people. So here are the things you need to know about social sustainability:

It’s about inclusive and sturdy communities where citizens have a voice and government response

The pillars of social sustainability are inclusive and resilient communities where citizens and government respond. Such communities encourage growth and poverty reduction today and in the future. 

Social sustainability operates along with economic and environmental sustainability. In the previous years, the focus was on economic sustainability and, later on, environmental sustainability with raising concerns over climate change and biodiversity loss.

But with the awareness of the fragility challenges, continuous inequality, and racial segregation, social sustainability has been recognized as a tool to drive growth and poverty reduction. 

It’s about creating equal opportunities for all people and addressing inequality

equal opportunities

Continuous discrimination and exclusion of the marginalized come at a high cost to both citizens and the economy. The loss in human capital worldwide due to inequality is approximately $160.2 trillion.

Ninety percent of the disabled children in developing countries do not attend school. Also, in many countries, it is becoming difficult to handle LGBT exclusion, discrimination, and violence. Today, 70 countries criminalize homosexuality. 

Social sustainability focuses on creating more opportunities for all marginalized communities to participate in markets, services, technologies, and society.

For example, in countries like Panama, this may mean cooperating with indigenous communities and their traditional leaders to improve health, education, water, and sanitation services. 

It is about supporting people to Implement their Own solutions

Community-driven development programs empower communities to drive their own development and poverty reduction solutions. Building on interactive approaches and society’s own values, a community-driven development program improves community services and basic infrastructure.

This helps especially the most vulnerable residents achieve their potential and develop their livelihoods. Additionally, they strengthen residents’ capacity and community leaders to articulate their wants and work with local and regional governments.

Social sustainability also works across teams to create citizen engagement and tools for investment projects. Engaging the citizens is important, especially during those difficult times, since it provides a clear understanding of how the crisis influences the communities and can lead to a real-time correction. 

Working in the most fragile and difficult environment is the perfect way to create sturdy societies 

Resilience is strengthened for individuals living in tough environments by creating thriving opportunities. This is done by building strong households and communities that can hold out against divisions caused by conflicts, violence, and external shocks like climate change or pandemics.

That’s why most operations in social sustainability focus on establishing social cohesion in countries that address conflict and violence.

Various forms of social sustainability

There are several forms of social sustainability. In fact, this is applicable in nearly every aspect of life. Some of irs forms are easy to apply and understand, while others are quite complex. 

Social and ethics are not always interchangeable. However, when it comes to sustainability, they share the same principles. Caring about other people’s physical, mental, and emotional health is the basis of the social pillar of sustainability. 

There are many ways to achieve a healthy balance based on the setting and your role in the situation. For instance, as a manager in the retail setting, it is worth ensuring that employees working under your supervision have the tools required to get the job done.

At the same time, you need to provide a safe and better working environment to make your employees happy and work without mental destruction.

There are also many other ways, including community welfare, caring for the disabled, academic equality, health care, and much more.

Social acceptance and equality are also considered to be part of it

Examples of social sustainability 

local community

Today’s social sustainability focuses on resolving racial segregation and discrimination. For example, in police departments, there have been harsh treatments and punishments due to racial discrimination.

Other social sustainability examples focus on solving discrimination issues in schools and social communities. 

This year, one of the most common social topics has been equality for marginalized communities. This ensures that basic human rights and social endurance become part of ethical and social sustainability. 

Because marginalized communities may become subject to exploitation of the workers, for example by the fashion industry, which is always looking for cheap labor to be able to follow the latest fashion trends.

Supporting the local communities can reduce those risks, as well as educating the consumers to choose ethical products.

The main objective of those efforts is to set up diverse communities, workplaces, and schools, accepting those living within the community. For many, accessing the workplace or a safe environment has been quite challenging.

However, diversity initiatives and social sustainability programs have simplified everything, and there has been significant progress over the last couple of years. 

Healthcare is also an important issue to date. Although it is still a major concern in today’s communities, healthcare has been a hot topic for generations. 

Access to healthcare by low-income earners, people of different colors, the disabled, and even different genders has been a hot headline. 

The population’s physical and mental health is also a considerable factor contributing to the community’s overall growth. For example, the infant mortality rate within a given population and life expectancies can have a big impact on the development of a community.

Examples of social sustainability

Social sustainability in the care for the elderly

Ethical and social concerns are parts of the long-term business and community strategy. There is always a demand for a particular resource, and the demand often increases considerably when it comes to the aging population. When it comes to aging, several social inequalities have improved, but they still need to be addressed. 

We shall be discussing some examples of sustainable development in aged care, but the list of the exact problems is quite intensive. One of the main issues in the care for the elderly is that people live longer, increasing the demand for resources from the younger population. 

The increase of the population has also contributed to the high demand for land, water, energy, food, and medical facilities. The high demand, in turn, leads to higher prices. While working-age individuals can increase their income to compensate, most of the elderly population faces challenges due to inabilities to meet the high demand and price hikes.

These social sustainability challenges are becoming a huge concern in the care for seniors due to population aging. The organization, healthcare facilities, and communities must find ways to compensate and care for the increased population humanely and sustainably.

This is achievable by creating programs for seniors, encouraging the young to volunteer, providing incentives for young people to care for their grandparents, and solving the pressure on the elderly communities.

Additionally, new facilities with lower environmental impact will need to be built to help and care for the aging population. 

Finally, more research is needed to understand and anticipate the long-term wants of the aging community. This allows businesses, governments, communities, and the healthcare system to adapt and provide proper care while managing available resources.

Social sustainability in childcare


Social sustainability is all about well-being, cultural sustainability, and community equity. When it comes to children and families, it is crucial for childcare to be socially sustainable. 

This helps children succeed in their development years and teaches them how to exercise social sustainability as they age and mature. Understanding social sustainability in child care proper and seeing it in action are two different things. So, I’ll give you some easy-to-understand examples. 

Children’s well-being in a care setting is very important. How they feel affects how they act and behave with others around them. 

It is important for childcare workers to take time to get inspired. This lets them pass along those positive vibes to the children in their care. 

Treating people equally is important but treating them equitably is more effective. 

For example, fairness is not about giving everyone the same things. That’s equality. Sustainability focuses on ensuring everyone gets the tools they need to succeed – equity.

Regarding social sustainability in child care, it’s important to give the younger generation everything they need, including time, strategies, and support to succeed and participate in their environment. That means considering what each child needs according to their age, culture, learning style, personal challenges, and much more.   

While this may sometimes mean one child getting more attention than another, in the childcare setting, it will let all the children have an equal chance at getting ahead.

Being culturally proficient and inclusive is also part of this. You not only need to be inclusive with everyone despite their background, but also teach others about respecting different opinions, cultures, abilities, and more.

Social sustainability in business 

social sustainability in business

In business, the concept of social sustainability deals with the impacts of business on society and on people in the local community. Unfortunately, despite the triple bottom line model (TBL or 3 pillars of sustainability), this is the most under-gauged part of sustainability.

This is because most businesses use this model to track and determine company performance rather than for planning the corporate strategy.

Social sustainability in business should especially ensure equal labor and fair wages for the company’s employees and suppliers. An example of business-based social sustainability is an organization’s stance on human rights and what they do to ensure a quality work-life balance.

Businesses should also care about how their presence impacts the local community, both for good and bad. The social effect can be shaped to support positive growth and promote goodwill through philanthropy and volunteerism.

social sustainability in business

Social sustainability in business also covers the gap between an organization and investors or stakeholders. The supplier’s payment and reliability and even the impacts of the products on the consumer’s lives contribute to social enhancements.

Why social sustainability is important?

why is social sustainability important

Everything we do affects social sustainability. For example, establishing an agricultural policy in a regional plan that needs farmers to change their approaches may lead to higher operational costs or a shift from traditional practices transmitted through generations. This could lead to both economic and social effects.

Therefore, it is important to consider the impact on the social principle of sustainability before taking any action. Ensuring a positive effect or that the eventual negative effect is fully considered and mitigated where necessary. 

Although many people would consider that these issues are being addressed as part of their jobs, they seem not to explicitly consider them deeply enough.

Reasons why we should consider the social aspects:

  • Risk management: by considering the potential social effects of our actions in terms of livelihood and repercussions, we can develop strategies to mitigate negative outcomes. This helps avoid massive delays and costs later in the process as challenges that weren’t initially considered become apparent. 
  • Successful results: for institutions dealing with improving wellbeing, such as local governments, considering social issues at an early stage can lead to quality results.
  • Improves the bottom line: for private organizations such as developers, considering social inference of a new development at the earlier stage can lead to a more desirable social environment. This improves the value of land and properties, which later will improve the bottom line for the business. 
  • Reputation: as of late, there has been a higher demand for products and services. Most often, people will not just consider the cost and quality when choosing the provider to use but will often also make ethical or environmental considerations. By improving your approach to social wellbeing, you’ll be improving the reputation of the organization, which may attract more customers. You can leverage powerful sustainability quotes to start creating the right culture to follow sustainable business practices in your organization. Because employees with the right eco-friendly mindset will be better equipped to spot opportunities and reflect the new green image of your business also in their daily lives.

be more proactive in your approach towards social sustainability

Be more proactive on social sustainability issues

So, how can you be more proactive in your approach to social sustainability? How to make sure that you consider the social aspects of all of your activities?

It is important to take into account the social impacts of everything we do. This may include policies, projects, programs, operations, and management. Here are some tools you can use:

  • Social impact assessment: the main tool used to examine the social impact of a policy, project, or program is called social impact assessment. Social impact assessment needs to take a holistic view of the impact of the proposed changes, including positive and negative impacts, and provide support to compare the effect of different activities. Here are 2 key considerations regarding the use of this tool:
    1. Proper research: the key to better social impact assessment and many other social sustainability factors is conducting proper research. Researching the determinants of social wellbeing helps establish what we should focus on to promote a proactive approach to encourage social well-being and contribute to social sustainability. Additionally, it helps to better understand the existing circumstances and provides room for comparison. 
    2. Quantifiable results: where attainable, it is important to quantify the social effects. This allows a more data-driven approach and makes comparisons a lot easier. Additionally, it is important to have a proper methodology for quantifying the social effects. This helps to make the results of any assessment more accurate and credible. Although it can be challenging to quantify the social impact, establishing benefits and expenses related to a given approach can help.
  • Other tools used in the assessment: apart from social impact assessment, there are other alternative tools. For example, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) holistically assess project or policy and address all environmental problems, including social and economic. We also have a sustainability appraisal, which assesses the triple bottom line of the proposal. While considering such issues, multi-criteria analysis is used in a structured sense. There are also more specific tools like health impact assessment and the equalities impact assessment that focus on a specific part of social wellbeing.
  • Public participation: public participation is an important aspect of understanding the social impact of our actions and proactively managing social impacts. It is essential to understand how communities work and get to the root of existing social problems to predict the effects of the given action and set up programs to manage and improve social conditions. The perfect way to do this is by talking to the communities themselves. 
  • Social planning: while planning for new development, considering social infrastructure from the beginning is always important. Physical infrastructure should always be planned in detail, such as transport and utilities. However, the soft infrastructure, which involves community facilities and other less visible aspects of social wellbeing, often gets less attention. The place’s design can have a significant impact on social sustainability. This includes the positioning of basic facilities such as schools and open spaces, the interplay between various aspects such as social housing and private housing, and the general quality of the design. Thanks to sustainable urban design, we can easily overcome and avoid several social issues.  Apart from designing, other aspects can affect the success in social terms of new development. For example, how social housing is managed, how open spaces and community facilities are maintained (also using smart buildings technologies), and community participation and development approaches. 
  • Community development and behavioral change: social planning is not just about the physical environment and considering social affairs in designing new places. It’s all about how communities develop and change as they grow. Through managing this process, also thanks to sustainable urban design, we can easily maintain strong communities and ensure social sustainability. The important part of community development is providing them with opportunities to meet their own needs. For instance, in the health sector, there is a push toward changing bad behaviors such as smoking or excessive drinking to help people live a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, some programs encourage behavioral change for people who don’t work to shift from depending on the benefits system to participating in the economy. To accomplish these goals, programs can be established to encourage change in behavior using change management strategies and social marketing. 
  • Monitoring: one of the most important elements of delivering social sustainability that is often overlooked is the continuous monitoring of social issues and repercussions. By monitoring communities in the long term, we can well understand the exact impact of our activities, enabling us to make accurate predictions. It also helps us develop a better understanding of social change as time goes by. 

The bottom line


That’s all about social sustainability, how it works, how we can achieve it, and why it is important to consider it. Social sustainability comes with vast benefits, and when well implemented, it can help reduce poverty and solve inequality issues. 


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