Social sustainability

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Social sustainability
Venn diagram of sustainable development:
at the confluence of three constituent parts [1]
The four domains of social sustainability according to the Circles of Sustainability approach used by the United Nations Circles of Sustainability image (assessment - Melbourne 2011).jpg
The four domains of social sustainability according to the Circles of Sustainability approach used by the United Nations

Social sustainability is the least defined and least understood of the different ways of approaching sustainability and sustainable development. Social sustainability has had considerably less attention in public dialogue than economic and environmental sustainability.


There are several approaches to sustainability. The first, which posits a triad of environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability, is the most widely accepted as a model for addressing sustainability. The concept of "social sustainability" in this approach encompasses such topics as: social equity, livability, health equity, community development, social capital, social support, human rights, labour rights, placemaking, social responsibility, social justice, cultural competence, community resilience, and human adaptation.

A second, more recent, approach suggests that all of the domains of sustainability are social: including ecological, economic, political and cultural sustainability. These domains of social sustainability are all dependent upon the relationship between the social and the natural, with the "ecological domain" defined as human embeddedness in the environment. In these terms, social sustainability encompasses all human activities. [3] It is not just relevant to the focussed intersection of economics, the environment and the social. [4] (See the Venn diagram and the Circles of Sustainability diagram).


According to the Western Australia Council of Social Services (WACOSS): [5] "Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes; systems; structures; and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and liveable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life."

Another definition has been developed by Social Life, [6] a UK-based social enterprise specialising in place-based innovation. They define 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." [7]


High life expectancy can be achieved with low CO2 emissions, for example in Costa Rica, a country which also ranks high on the Happy Planet Index. High life expectancy can be achieved with low CO2 emissions.jpg
High life expectancy can be achieved with low CO2 emissions, for example in Costa Rica, a country which also ranks high on the Happy Planet Index.

Social Life have developed a framework for social sustainability [8] which has four dimensions: amenities and infrastructure, social and cultural life, voice and influence, and space to grow. [7]

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen gives the following dimensions for social sustainability: [9]

Also we can speak of Sustainable Human Development that can be seen as development that promotes the capabilities of present people without compromising capabilities of future generations. [10] In the human development paradigm, environment and natural resources should constitute a means of achieving better standards of living just as income represents a means of increasing social expenditure and, in the end, well-being. [11]

The different aspects of social sustainability are often considered in socially responsible investing (SRI). Social sustainability criteria that are commonly used by SRI funds and indexes to rate publicly traded companies include: community, diversity, employee relations, human rights, product safety, reporting, and governance structure. [12] [13]

Recently, design has been identified as a key strategic tool for achieving social sustainability. [14]

Application and Verification

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that countries have the obligation to “respect, protect, and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms” and that business enterprises are required to comply with all applicable laws and respect human rights. [15] Both production and procurement of goods and services should be documented to verify satisfaction of these international principles and laws. [16]

The UN Guiding Principles also include a reporting framework, [17] which teaches companies how to report their interaction with human rights issues. In addition resources like Free2Work, [18] the Global Reporting Initiative, and Business and Human Rights Resource Centre all provide information on organizational disclosures and performance in social sustainability. [19] Certifications from internationally recognized and accredited organizations are available to aid in verifying the social sustainability of products and services. The Forest Stewardship Council (paper and forest products), [20] and Kimberly Process (diamonds) are examples of such organizations and initiatives. [21]

See also


  1. Adams, W.M. (2006). "The Future of Sustainability: Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century." Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29–31 January 2006. Retrieved on: 2009-02-16.
  2. Liam Magee; Andy Scerri; Paul James; James A. Thom; Lin Padgham; Sarah Hickmott; Hepu Deng; Felicity Cahill (2013). "Reframing social sustainability reporting: Towards an engaged approach". Environment, Development and Sustainability.
  3. James, Paul; with Magee, Liam; Scerri, Andy; Steger, Manfred B. (2015). Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability. London: Routledge.
  4. Liam Magee; Andy Scerri; Paul James; James A. Thom; Lin Padgham; Sarah Hickmott; Hepu Deng; Felicity Cahill (2013). "Reframing social sustainability reporting: Towards an engaged approach". Environment, Development and Sustainability.
  5. "Home | Social Life". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  6. 1 2 S.Woodcraft et al (2011) Design for Social Sustainability, Social Life, London
  7. "Design for Social Sustainability | Social Life". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  8. Sen, A.K. (2000) ‘The ends and means of sustainability’, keynote address at the International Conference on Transition to sustainability, Tokyo, May
  9. Anand, S. and Sen, A.K. (1996) ‘Sustainable human development: concepts and priorities’, Office of Development Studies Discussion Paper, No. 1, UNDP, New York
  10. KLD Research. Environmental, Social and Governance Rating Criteria. 2007
  11. The Combined Code on Corporate Governance, June 2008
  12. Corsini, L. & Moultrie, J. (2019) Design for social sustainability: using digital fabrication in the humanitarian and development sector. Sustainability.
  13. United Nations Human Rights, Office of the Commissioner. "Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights" (PDF). United Nations, New York and Geneva. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  14. "Verifying Delivery of Sustainable Products and Services - GSA Sustainable Facilities Tool". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  15. "UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  16. Free2Work
  17. "Social Sustainability - GSA Sustainable Facilities Tool". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  18. "In Ivory Coast, the school as a bulwark against child labour". ICI Cocoa Initiative. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  19. "Social Sustainability Initiatives, Guidelines, and Standards - GSA Sustainable Facilities Tool". Retrieved 2016-03-10.

Related Research Articles

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services based upon which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resources are used to continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Quality of life is the general well-being of individuals and societies, outlining negative and positive features of life. It consists of the expectations of an individual or society for a good life. These expectations are guided by the values, goals and socio-cultural context in which an individual lives. It serves as a reference against which an individual or society can measure the different domains of a personal life. The extent to which one's own life coincides with a desired standard level - or, put differently, the degree to which these domains give satisfaction and as such contribute to one's subjective well-being - is called life satisfaction.

Triple bottom line accounting framework

The triple bottom line is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. Some organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater business value. Business writer John Elkington claims to have coined the phrase in 1994.

International development Concept concerning the level of development on an international scale

International development or global development is a broad concept denoting the idea that societies and countries have differing levels of "development" on an international scale. It is the basis for international classifications such as developed country, developing country and least developed country, and for a field of practice and research that in various ways engages with international development processes. There are, however, many schools of thought and conventions regarding which are the exact features constituting the "development" of a country.

The United Nations Global Compact is a non-binding United Nations pact to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. The UN Global Compact is a principle-based framework for businesses, stating ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption. Under the Global Compact, companies are brought together with UN agencies, labor groups and civil society. Cities can join the Global Compact through the Cities Programme.

Human security is an emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities whose proponents challenge the traditional notion of national security through military security by arguing that the proper referent for security should be at the human rather than national level. Human security reveals a people-centred and multi-disciplinary understanding of security involves a number of research fields, including development studies, international relations, strategic studies, and human rights. The United Nations Development Programme's 1994 Human Development Report is considered a milestone publication in the field of human security, with its argument that insuring "freedom from want" and "freedom from fear" for all persons is the best path to tackle the problem of global insecurity.

Capacity building Process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills and knowledge needed to do their jobs competently

Capacity building is the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources needed to do their jobs competently. It allows individuals and organizations to perform at a greater capacity. "Capacity building" and "Capacity development" are often used interchangeably. This term indexes a series of initiatives from the 1950s in which the active participation of local communities’ members in social and economic development was encouraged via national and subnational plans.

Public participation participation of citizens in various policy decisions and planning processes

Public participation, also known as citizen participation, is the inclusion of the public in the activities of any organization or project. Public participation is similar to but more inclusive than stakeholder engagement.

Human development is the science that seeks to understand how and why the people of all ages and circumstances change or remain the same over time. It involves studies of the human condition with its core being the capability approach. The inequality adjusted Human Development Index is used as a way of measuring actual progress in human development by the United Nations. It is an alternative approach to a single focus on economic growth, and focused more on social justice, as a way of understanding progress.

Sustainability metrics and indices are measures of sustainability, and attempt to quantify beyond the generic concept. Though there are disagreements among those from different disciplines, these disciplines and international organizations have each offered measures or indicators of how to measure the concept.

Sustainable consumption (SC) is the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in such a way that it minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. Consumption refers not only to individuals and households, but also to governments, business, and other institutions. Sustainable consumption is closely related to sustainable production and sustainable lifestyles. "A sustainable lifestyle minimizes ecological impacts while enabling a flourishing life for individuals, households, communities, and beyond. It is the product of individual and collective decisions about aspirations and about satisfying needs and adopting practices, which are in turn conditioned, facilitated, and constrained by societal norms, political institutions, public policies, infrastructures, markets, and culture.".

Sustainability Process of maintaining change in a balanced fashion

Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social, which according to Fritjof Capra is based on the principles of Systems Thinking. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. According to Our Common Future, Sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical.

Community indicators are "measurements that provide information about past and current trends and assist planners and community leaders in making decisions that affect future outcomes". They provide insight into the overall direction of a community: whether it is improving, declining, or staying the same, or is some mix of all three.

Paul James, is Professor of Globalization and Cultural Diversity at Western Sydney University, and Director of the Institute for Culture and Society where he has been since 2014. He is a writer on global politics, globalization, sustainability, and social theory.

Circles of Sustainability methods for understanding and assessing the sustainability, and management projects aimed at socially sustainable outcomes

Circles of Sustainability is a method for understanding and assessing sustainability, and for managing projects directed towards socially sustainable outcomes. It is intended to handle 'seemingly intractable problems' such as outlined in sustainable development debates. The method is mostly used for cities and urban settlements.

Engaged theory is a methodological framework for understanding social complexity. It takes social life or social relations as its base category, with 'the social' always understood as grounded in 'the natural', including humans as embodied beings. Engaged theory provides a framework that moves from detailed empirical analysis about things, people and processes in the world to abstract theory about the constitution and social framing of those things, people and processes.

The RMIT Global Cities Research Institute was a major research institute of RMIT University. It was formed in 2006 as one of the four flagship research bodies at the university crossing all the disciplines from the humanities and social sciences to applied science and engineering. It has 200 staff, affiliated with seven programs.

  1. Global Climate Change
    Research leader: Darryn McEvoy
  2. Globalization and Culture
    Research leaders: Formerly Manfred Steger and Chris Hudson
  3. Community Sustainability
    Research leaders: Supriya Singh and Yaso Nadarajah
  4. Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures
    Research leaders: Ralph Horne and John Fien
  5. Human Security and Disasters
    Research Leaders: John Handmer and Jeff Lewis
  6. Urban Decision-Making and Complex Systems
    Research Leader: Lin Padgham
  7. Global Indigeneity and Reconciliation
    Research Leader: Barry Judd

This is a bibliography of sustainability publications.

Armenia and the United Nations

The Republic of Armenia was admitted into the United Nations on March 2, 1992. Since December 1992 when UN opened its first office in Yerevan, Armenia signed and ratified many international treaties. There are fifteen specialized agencies, programs and funds in the UN Country Team under the supervision of the UN Resident Coordinator. Besides, the World Bank (WB), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have offices in the country. The focus was drawn to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) stipulated by the Millennium Declaration adopted during the Millennium Summit in 2000. The MDGs have simulated never before practiced actions to meet the needs of the world's poorest. As the MDG achievement date of December 2015 drew closer a new set of global sustainable development goals was consulted worldwide, to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. Armenia was included in the initial group of 50 countries to conduct national consultations on the global Post-2015 development agenda.

Sustainable Development Goal 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Sustainable Development Goal 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions – is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015. It "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels". The Goal has 12 targets to be achieved by 2030. Progress towards targets will be measured by 23 indicators.



  1. Raphael, Daniel. "PhD".