The Curious Case of Social Sustainability

BuzzOnEarth is an online publication on environmental sustainability and human wellness, focused on creating positive impact. BoE aims to bridge the knowledge gap and act as a catalyst in accelerating sustainable development.

Every time we talk of sustainability, our thoughts graduate towards the picture of a greener, cleaner environment. The concerns that come to our mind mostly revolve around climate change, water conservation, waste management or basically anything natural.

Even the most popular of our sustainability crusaders talk about how humans are hazardous to achieving the cause of sustainability!

Well, a bit extremist of a claim but okay!

Now, imagine- greener earth, trees full of fruits, veggies going around and all the birds and animals moving freely! All this, and no human around. So, the trees (fruits and vegetables too) will start rotting because there will not be many people to pluck, the predators will go unchecked, the entire food chain will go for a toss and it will all be a mess.

So, no matter how much we blame humans for whatever is happening around, their presence and interference (albeit in moderation) are required.

If there is anyone in our readers who watches the Netflix series “Blacklist”, it had an episode roughly touching this topic. Rather, environmental extremist has been a subject of serious discussion across platforms. So, coming back to the episode, it was about a group which went to the extremes declaring humans as plague and so, as per them the only way to create a “sustainable” environment was to kill every single person alive!

As strange as it may sound but every time we fail to include the human aspect of sustainability, we are talking on those terms only!

Social Sustainability is what saves us from treading down the path for it explains that the true sustainability is not just about saving the environment but also about the rehabilitation of societies in general in a manner so that the environment, as well as the people, could co-exist happily!

Defining Social Sustainability

The Curious Case of Social Sustainability

We will go by the textbook definition here so here are two of the most commonly followed ones:

“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 livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.” – WACOSS, Western Australia Council of Social Services

“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 the design of the physical realm with the 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.” – Social Life, a UK based social enterprise specializing in place-based innovation

Put simply, Social sustainability is about making sure that humans have a better life too and while we provide them with a better life, the mode should be something which does not end up harming nature.

Now, you will say why do we need that?

Valid Question! But we have our answer ready. While a lot of us may not realise but many people in this world do not have access to safe drinking water or safe places for excretion. There are many women around the world who do not have access to the most basic of necessities to have a safe menstruation period.

We will say that there are still luxuries when we compare it with people who do not even get enough food daily and die of malnutrition or simply hunger!

Then there is this whole story of slum development too 

Social sustainability is needed for such people. Those who aren’t as privileged as our average reader but for mostly no fault of their own or because of the lack of resources.

Enough said, let us look at what all constitutes Social Sustainability

What Does Social Sustainability Include

As per Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Social Sustainability includes the following dimensions:

Equity – This dimension is about providing equitable opportunities and outcomes to all the members of the society with a special focus on the poorest and most vulnerable members

Diversity – This dimension works towards the promotion of diversity in the communities and a co-existence without any hiccups or hindrance

Social cohesions – An extension or sub-set of the diversity dimension, social cohesion focuses on promoting connectedness within and outside the community at a formal, informal and institutional level

Quality of life – This dimension ensures that the basic needs of the people are met and fosters a good quality of life for all the members at the individual, group and community level.

Democracy and governance – This dimension strives to achieve democratic processes and accountable government structures.

Maturity – This aspect of social sustainability talks about an individual’’s responsibility of consistent growth and improvement through broader social attributes such as communication styles, behavioural patterns, indirect education and philosophical explorations.

Now, having explained what Social Sustainability is or it entails, we would like to mention that Social Sustainability is not a comprehensive set of rules or a one-size-fits-all approach which every Government or individual has to follow.

Social Sustainability is a fluid concept which will vary with every situation. So, while for the slum-dwellers, it will start with access to the very basic of the necessities, for more middle-level economic strata, it will be about lifestyle improvements

And a Few Final Words

We know that some of you must be thinking that social sustainability is a borderline appeal by humans, an excuse to justify whatever harm they are doing to nature. Well, we will not debate that because just like every being in nature, humans want to survive too! However, Social Sustainability is that conscious effort which makes sure that people do remember that humans are an integral part of sustainable development too. It makes sure that the marginalised sections are not forgotten in the madness of making a name for environmental protection.

We can literally go on and on about it but the concept is pretty basic. As a concluding line, we can say that 

Social Sustainability is that which makes sure that Environmental Preservation does not become a maddening ambition just like economic development has been!