Your First Steps Towards Social Sustainability

There are 3 pillar to sustainability, environmental, economic and social, otherwise known as Planet, Profit, People; and generally sustainability is the process and goal to meet our needs without jeopardising those of future generations. In order of investment of research and resources environment is the primary one, and economic sustainability has been gaining grounds, however, despite the attempts, those can’t be really taken apart and when investing in sustainability of the environment and of the economy, human wellbeing and welfare needs to have its righteous place in policies, practices and investments, as the three aspects are parts of one and the same. 

Community wellbeing and quality of long lifespan are at the heart of social sustainability, and yet it is not perceived as a priority, as much of the focus today is on environmental and economic sustainability, often forgetting that the three aspects move along the same path and complete one another. Take for example housing, where both policies and investments focus on energy efficiency, low-carbon and environmental behaviour, how can that be done without intervention on communities, or their creation. Communities are made of people and of the places where they dwell and recognise belonging, being both a physical and a social environment; therefore communities have need to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. A sense of community is something that can’t be engineered by enacting environmentally sustainable procedures on the physical aspect, there is work to be done also on the social environment, which actually reinforces the environmental responsibility of community members once this enters the lifestyle and environmental sustainability becomes a much easier choice, one might even say almost automatic. While physical infrastructures, as could be solar panels, are of course something necessary and to be praised and encouraged, there is a parallel need of social infrastructures that enhances the sense of community and mutual belonging of individual-community-biosphere, physical intervention alone can indeed make this easier, but can also risk to obstacle community formation, if that is not taken into careful consideration. Take for example the Waste-to-Energy Plant in Copenhagen which was built to contain inclusive spaces freely available to civil society and youth organisations from the neighbourhood to carry out their activities and meetings, that is a physical and social intervention walking hand in hand. 

Social Sustainability concerns the “how” individuals and communities live with one another and have the objective of acquiring a chosen development model that includes the physical limitations of their place of living and the planet. Practically we are looking at areas such as capacity building and learning all the way to environmental and space inequalities, bridging social policy with equity and health and all that is in between, such as; participation, needs, social capital, economy, environment, happiness, wellbeing and quality of life; and when we talk about quality of life there are many factors to consider, is housing affordable? Is physical and mental medical support available and accessible? What about education and ongoing training opportunities? 

Yes the area of social sustainability, as you can see, is pretty massive affecting pretty much every single area of human actions and interactions. So wide and large that it is more and more considered an independent dimension of sustainable development, and rising its importance as an equal to economic and environmental sustainability, and not yet researched enough. One thing we know and we all agree upon is that social sustainability is community oriented, and communities have to both attract and retain members to their group and places and to be enriched by a diversity of ages, backgrounds and heritage. True, housing, cost, space, quality of the area have a massive impact on individuals wanting to move somewhere, and what retains the person to stay there is the creation of a sense of community. The creation of places that promote wellbeing, understanding the living and working needs of its members, combining physical and social interventions and harmony, with the right social and physical infrastructures in place that support cultural and social life as well as opportunities for engagement and a space for growth and learning. 

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner

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