Social sustainability

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Environment Equitable Sustainable Bearable (Social ecology) Viable (Environmental economics) Economic SocialSustainable development.svg
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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[2]

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.[3] (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. [4]


According to the Western Australia Council of Social Services (WACOSS)[1]: "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."[5]

Raphael defines Social Sustainability is the ability of a civilization to sustain itself for 500 years or more. Raphael states that the resource for social sustainability is the social environment. People – Individuals, families, communities — millions of us! He states that Social Sustainability is quality-value based, therefore, Social Sustainability is improved by: Improving the quality of people to participate effectively in the organizations and institutions of society, government and finance; which increases their value to their family, community, society and global civilization. Social sustainability is improved by two efforts: Improving the quality of people to participate effectively in social sustainability, and improving the quality of their participation, which increases their value to their family, community and society; and secondly, by incorporating the three core values of social sustainability into the organizations of their societies. [6]


The Three Core Values Daniel Raphael suggests that the reason our species has been so successful throughout its existence is the motivational response of every individual/family to three values working in unison and often unconsciously to insure the sustainability of our species. These values are:

Quality of life — While life is fundamental to survival and continued existence, it is the quality of life that makes life worth living and gives life meaning. Quality of life is the primary value, with growth and equality being the subordinate values.

Growth — Growth is a subordinate value that contributes to the primary value, the quality of life. Growth is essential for improving our quality of life. It is self-evident that growth is essential to our existence and personal and societal fulfillment. To be human is to grow! Having children provides us with a very immediate perspective of growth.

Equality — Equality is inherent in the value of life. In a democracy, access to the quality of life is provided when a person not only has an equal right to life, but that person also has an equal right to growth as anyone else. We give equal value to each individual, and we would seek to provide more equitable opportunity to every individual to develop their innate potential, as we would our own.

“The validity of these values is self-evident, just as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, … endowed … with certain unalienable rights (values) that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “These three values provide the basis for a value based “unified theory of human motivation” due to their irreducible nature, being universal and timeless in nature to all members of our species. (Eponymously, this becomes the Raphael UTHM.) It is from these values that our needs make themselves known.” [7]

Daniel Raphael suggests that the underlying reason why no civilization has been able to survive more than a few thousand years is because the three core values that have sustained the species through so many millennia have not been incorporated into the mission statements and plans of the organizations and institutions of the three pillars of civilization; society, politics and economics. With the three values being largely unconscious there has been no conscious intent by the organizations that make up the pillars of civilization to include them as an intimate part of the way they function. “Organizations do not have survival or sustainability written into their intentions for existence, neither do most organizations have a learning process embedded into their functions to learn from what leads to success and what leads to failure. Humans are ‘learning machines’ and learn to adapt to survive. “In order to create governments, corporations, companies, foundations and other organizations that become sustainable, they too must amend their intentions for existence to include survival and sustainability to survive and to go on to become sustainable in the term of centuries and millennia.” [8]

In order to create governments, corporations, companies, foundations and other organizations that become sustainable, they must be created with the three core values as a part of their mission statement and organizational plans. These institutions and organizations would therefore support the improved quality and participation of the individual/family, the basic unit of civilization. [9]


Social Life have developed a framework for social sustainability which has four dimensions: amenities and infrastructure, social and cultural life, voice and influence, and space to grow.[5]

Nobel Laureat Amartya Sen gives the following dimensions for social sustainability [2]:

  • 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.[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]

See also[edit]


  • Hicks, 1997 D.A. Hicks, The inequality-adjusted human development index: a constructive proposal, World Development 25 (8) (1997), pp. 1283–1298.
  • Hinterberger, F., et al. (1999) Sustainable Human Development Index. A suggestion for Greening the UN Indicator of Social and Economic Welfare, Wuppertal Institute, Wuppertal.
  • 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. 
  • Magee, Liam; James, Paul; Scerri, Andy (2012). "Measuring Social Sustainability: A Community-Centred Approach". Applied Research in the Quality of Life 7 (3): 239–61. 
  • Woodcraft, S., et all (2012) Design for Social Sustainability, Social LIfe, London.
  • Partridge, E. (2005)‘Social sustainability’: a useful theoretical framework? Paper presented at the Australasian Political Science Association Annual Conference 2005, Dunedin, New Zealand, 28–30 September 2005
  • United Nations Development Programme (various years) Human Development Report, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • World Bank (1992) World Development Report 1992: Development and the Environment, Oxford University Press, New York.
  • World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Great Britain.
  • World Economic Forum (2002) Environmental Sustainability Index, Columbia University [3].



  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. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability #6 Let’s Get Back to Basics
  5. ^ a b S.Woodcraft et al (2011) Design for Social Sustainability, Social Life, London
  6. ^ Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability #6 Let’s Get Back to Basics
  7. ^ [Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability #6 The Three Core Values of Social Sustainability]
  8. ^ [Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability #3 “Why Organizations and Societies Fail”
  9. ^ Daniel Raphael PhD Basic Concepts of Social Sustainability
  10. ^ Sen, A.K. (2000) ‘The ends and means of sustainability’, keynote address at the International Conference on Transition to sustainability, Tokyo, May
  11. ^ Anand, S. and Sen, A.K. (1996) ‘Sustainable human development: concepts and priorities’, Office of Development Studies Discussion Paper, No. 1, UNDP, New York
  12. ^ KLD Research. Environmental, Social and Governance Rating Criteria. 2007
  13. ^ The Combined Code on Corporate Governance, June 2008
  14. ^ Raphael, Daniel. "PhD". 

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