Social Sustainability – Everything You need to know

What is social Sustainability? social sustainability example? issues? Social Sustainability Definitions, news, Articles

What is Social Sustainability?

Social Sustainability is one of the three disciplines of sustainability, other than Social, the other two disciplines are economic and environmental sustainability. Another way to describe the disciplines is “people, profit, and planet” to represents “social, economic, and environment” as the 3 pillars of sustainability. In this article, we are going to focus and provide everything you need to know about social sustainability. Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The environment is the primary but not the only consideration within sustainability; it is important to also consider human welfare.  Social sustainability is part of the bigger scope of ESG.

In this article, you will learn about:

  • What is Social Sustainability?
  • How to Improve Social Sustainability?
  • What does Social Sustainability mean to you?
  • Design for Social Sustainability
  • Social Sustainability Issues Examples

Let’s start!


Social Sustainability Definition and Meaning

Social Sustainability is a critical component of a community’s wellbeing and longevity. Social sustainability is largely neglected in mainstream sustainability debates. Priority has been given to economic and environmental sustainability in particular in the context of planning, housing and communities, where policy and investment has focused on renewable resources, low carbon communities and encouraging pro-environmental behaviour in households. A community is composed of people as well as the places where they live; it is as much a social environment as a physical environment. Thus, communities must not only be environmentally sustainable, they must also be socially sustainable. Social sustainability cannot be created simply through the physical design of the community but then neither can environmental sustainability be created by physical design alone. Physical design cannot ensure that individuals, families and communities will lead environmentally sustainable lifestyles, although it can help to make such environmentally sustainable choices more easy. Equally, while there is much that can be done on the “design” of the soft infrastructure of the community to ensure its social sustainability, the physical design of the community can make it either easier or more difficult for communities to be socially sustainable.

Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD) has a definition for Social Sustainability:

Concerning how individuals, communities and societies live with each other and set out to achieve the objectives of development models which they have chosen for themselves, also taking into account the physical boundaries of their places and planet earth as a whole. At a more operational level, social sustainability stems from actions in key thematic areas, encompassing the social realm of individuals and societies, which ranges from capacity building and skills development to environmental and spatial inequalities. In this sense, social sustainability blends traditional social policy areas and principles, such as equity and health, with emerging issues concerning participation, needs, social capital, the economy, the environment, and more recently, with the notions of happiness, wellbeing and quality of life.

and from the Sustainable Europe Research Institute:

“Social sustainability, as an independent dimension of sustainable development, and equally important as the economic or environmental dimension still lacks broad recognition by scientists as well as by decision makers.”

Communities need to attract and retain residents from a range of backgrounds, ages and tenures if they are to succeed as places where people want to live in the long term. The initial motivation for moving to a new community is often better quality housing, more space at the same cost, and employment prospects.

Another definition of Social Sustainability by Social Life is

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.


Four dimensions and Principles of Social Sustainability

There is a few different schools of social responsibility dimensions, the most popular and common one is developed by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

The four dimensions of social Sustainability are:

  • Quality of life
  • Equality
  • Diversity
  • Social Cohesion
  • Democracy & Governance
What is Social Sustainability?
4 Principles of Social Diversity

Qualify of Life Social Sustainability

Qualify of life is a big 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.

Equality dimension of Social Sustainability

Equality is the act to reduce disadvantages to certain groups, or helping certain groups to remove barriers to have more control of their lives. It also includes identifying the causes and reasons of disadvantages and find ways to reduce them.

Diversity dimension of Social sustainability

Diversity includes finding needs from different diverse groups of different diversity types and assess their needs, and educating everyone to have diverse viewpoints to leverage benefits of diversity.

Social Cohesion dimension of social sustainability

Social Cohesion means increasing participation by individual in a target group, as well as helping target groups to access public and civic institutions. One important factor is to build links between different target groups in a broader way by encouraging target groups to contribute to society as well.

Democracy & Governance

Governance is to make sure budget and resources are adequate to sustain sustainability programs and the ability to measure it.


Social Sustainability Researchers around the world

Research on social sustainability is only a very recent topic that attracts research attention. As of today, the better-known research centres are

  • Sustainable Europe Research Institute
  • Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development
  • Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
  • we here at Diversity Social

Social Sustainability Issues Example

Examples of social sustainability issues include resolving racisms and discrimination issues in schools, workplaces, social communities and create a diverse community.

Equal opportunities for basic health is also a social sustainability issue. Human health and well-being is an important factor in social sustainability. Important measures of human health include life expectancy and infant mortality

Best Social Sustainability Videos


Latest news & Articles on Social Sustainability

Who is doing research on Social Sustainability?

As of today, four research groups have focused on social sustainability as follow:

Learn more at Best of Diversity and Inclusion

What is Quality of life in sustainability?

Qualify of life is a big 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. Learn more at Best of Diversity and Inclusion

What is Social Cohesion?

Social Cohesion means to increase participation by individual in a target group, as well as helping target groups to access public and civic institutions. One important factor is to build links between different target groups in a broader way by encouraging target groups to contribute to society as well. Learn more at Best of Diversity and Inclusion

What is the Diversity dimension of Social sustainability?

Diversity includes finding needs from different diverse groups of different diversity types and assess their needs, and educating everyone to have diverse viewpoints to leverage benefits of diversity.

What are the four dimenions or Principles of Social Sustainability?

The four dimensions or principles of social sustainability are:

  • Quality of life
  • Equality
  • Diversity
  • Social Cohesion
  • Democracy & Governance

Learn more at Best of Diversity and Inclusion

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About the author

Susan R.

Sue Rice is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory