|Venn diagram of sustainable development:
at the confluence of three constituent parts
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 social sustainability. The first, which posits a triad of environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability. It 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, labor 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. It is not just relevant to the focussed intersection of economics, the environment and the social. (See the Venn diagram and the Circles of Sustainability diagram).
Daniel Raphael divides the topic of sustainability into material sustainability dealing with such material issues as the environment, air, water, food, fuel, housing, arable land, mineral resources etc. and social sustainability dealing with nonmaterial issues that affect the individual/family, these are society, politics/government, and economics/ finance. 
Raphael has generalized his insights in a value based theory of human motivation, that he calls the “Raphael Unified Theory of Human Motivation.” It states that all human motivation is based on three values that have been innate to the Homo sapiens species since their appearance 40,000 to 500,000 years ago. Those three values include quality of life, growth and equality.
These values have unceasingly motivated humankind to pursue an improving quality of life using growth as the primary means of doing so. Equality is defined as individuals being of equal value to each other, regardless of external references. Growth and equality are the subordinate values that support an improving quality of life. Raphael hypothesizes that if these values can be embedded into the operation of organizations, then it may become possible for societies to also become sustainable for centuries and millennia. Although these values are universal and timeless to our species, how they are interpreted becomes individual and societal.
According to the Western Australia Council of Social Services (WACOSS): "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, a UK-based social enterprise specialising in place based innovation (originally set up by the Young Foundation). For Social Life, social sustainability 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."
- Equity - the community provides equitable opportunities and outcomes for all its members, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community
- Diversity - the community promotes and encourages diversity
- Interconnected/Social cohesions - the community provides processes, systems and structures that promote connectedness within and outside the community at the formal, informal and institutional level
- Quality of life - the community ensures that basic needs are met and fosters a good quality of life for all members at the individual, group and community level (e.g. health, housing, education, employment, safety)
- Democracy and governance - the community provides democratic processes and open and accountable governance structures.
- Maturity - the individual accept the responsibility of consistent growth and improvement through broader social attributes (e.g. communication styles, behavioural patterns, indirect education and philosophical explorations)
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. 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.
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.
- Circles of Sustainability
- Sustainable development
- Sustainable business
- Socially responsible investing
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- Magee, Liam, 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.
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- http://citiesprogramme.com/archives/resource/circles-of-sustainability-urban-profile-process 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.
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- 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.
- Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability #6 Let’s Get Back to Basics https://www.dropbox.com/s/o89aonf6zo9bg0m/00%20BCOSS%20PUBLISHED.doc
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