Social Sustainability, is the often ignored, third, and most important pillar of Sustainable Development.
We have been continuously making strides to mitigate environmental problems. We have been consciously exploring and pursuing ways a business and its processes can be more economically sustainable. But one key area, which often remains ignored and not many people speak about, is the third key pillar of sustainable development, i.e, Social Sustainability. Without a conscious effort for achieving social sustainability, the other two pillars can only do so much.
Social Sustainability can be a medium through which we can optimize our efforts for environmental and economic sustainability. Even after this, it is the least talked about among the three pillars of Sustainable Development. We have taken up one or two dimensions of social sustainability but we are yet to see any considerable effort which holistically brings social sustainability and all of its core concerns to the mainstream debate. It is mainly due to the lack of awareness of the concept itself.
What is Social Sustainability?
The simplest understanding of Social Sustainability is the impact of businesses or economic activities, be it positive or negative, on the people and, by large, on society. It is one of the core principles of Sustainable Development. The other two are Profit or Economical Sustainability and Planet or Environmental Sustainability. It is an indispensable part of achieving Sustainable Development Golas. Without making social equity a fundamental priority, it is not possible to achieve Social Sustainability.
Whether you realize it or not, economic activities carried out by different companies affect not just the employees and people involved in the value chain. Indirectly or directly, it impacts at least the local communities if not the entire society in some way or the other. Thus, it is about ways of specifying, identifying, and managing the positive or negative impacts of business on employees, people involved in the value chain, and beyond it as well.
Social Sustainability will occur when the formal and informal processes, systems, structures, and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. It involves the creation of policies that mitigate social inequality and promote equal opportunities for all humans to live a meaningful life at their full potential.
Principles of Social Sustainability
The main objective of this concept is to secure people’s sociocultural and spiritual needs in an equitable way. There aren’t well-defined principles of social Sustainability but there are a few core values that define it properly and these are as follows.
- Inclusive Society – It is about creating inclusive and resilient societies where everyone can have a voice and be accepted. This voice further needs to be heard by a democratic responsible government.
- Equal opportunity – Social Sustainability and inclusion are about creating equal opportunities for all people and addressing deep-rooted systemic inequities in all spheres of life. This puts special emphasis on uplifting the marginalized and minorities.
- Empowerment – It is also about empowering those who have fewer resources. It is about supporting them and putting them in a spot so that they can take their own decisions and carve out their own solutions. It is about giving all people, especially those lagging behind, enough resources to be their own drivers and self-sufficient.
- Equilibrium between the three pillars of Sustainability – Social Sustainability is about creating awareness and sensibility to put focus on Environmental Sustainability and economic sustainability as well. It is about striking a balance among the three to create a society where everything is in harmony; a planet where humans of different races, gender, creed, and any other differences can co-exist among themselves and with the planet as well.
Why is it important?
Social Sustainability is a medium through which organizations can shape change, and benefit from it as well. A big focus of this concept is on human capital development whilst prioritizing environmental and economical sustainability equally well. Social issues covered by the Sustainable Development Goals are poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing, education, gender equality, decent work and dignity, inequality, and peace and justice. This might be able to give a better idea about the broad areas in which Social Sustainability has its impact.
- Build a more productive workforce – It allows for equal opportunity as well as equal resources to capitalize on these opportunities. This creates a robust supply chain as well.
- Poverty reduction – It will help in tackling a crippling problem. A society with equal opportunity will allow even the marginalized a fair chance to overcome up the ladder.
- Shared prosperity – It will help mitigate income inequality, wealth distribution, fair, and inclusive pay as well.
Social Sustainability will allow us to build a resilient global society that is more aware and conscious about the other two pillars of Sustainable Development, i.e, Environmental Sustainability and Economic Sustainability. Correct practices can accelerate our efforts in creating a more responsible and inclusive society.