Defining social sustainability

Community near Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo by N. Peterson This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Community near Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo by N. Peterson Creative Commons License

Despite a shared interest in social sustainability, academics, professionals and policymakers often hold varying perspectives about what social sustainability is, and how it can be implemented and assessed.

We began our network by trying to forge a definition of social sustainability, but have come to appreciate the value of a holistic idea of sustainability that does not differentiate between social, environmental, and economic sustainability because in our experiences, these distinctions are superficial and unhelpful. Our recent paper  and special issue outlines some of our ideas.

Some Definitions

“Social sustainability is a quality of societies. It signifies the nature-society relationships, mediated by work, as well as relationships within the society. Social sustainability is given, if work within a society and the related institutional arrangements

  • satisfy an extended set of human needs
  • are shaped in a way that nature and its reproductive capabilities are preserved over a long period of time and the normative claims of social justice, human dignity and participation are fulfilled.”

From Beate Littig, Erich Grieβler 2005 Social sustainability: a catchword between political pragmatism and social theoryInternational Journal of Sustainable Development 8(1-2):65-79, p 72.

“Social Sustainability is: a positive condition within communities, and a process within communities that can achieve that condition.” Stephen McKenzie 2004 Hawke Research Institute Working Paper Series No 27 SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY: TOWARDS SOME DEFINITIONS. Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia, Magill, South Australia (pdf)

“development (and/or growth) that is compatible with harmonious evolution of civil society, fostering an environment conducive to the compatible cohabitation of culturally and socially diverse groups while at the same time encouraging social integration, with improvements in the quality of life for all segments of the population.” Polese M, Stren R, 2000 The Social Sustainability of Cities: Diversity and Management of Change. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, pages 15-16.

“the continuing ability of a city to function as a long-term, viable setting for human interaction, communication and cultural development.” Yiftachel O, Hedgcock D, 1993, Urban social sustainability: the planning of an Australian city. Cities 10 139 – 157, page 140

“Social sustainability is one aspect of sustainability or sustainable development. Social sustainability encompasses human rights, labor rights, and corporate governance. In common with environmental sustainability, social sustainability is the idea that future generations should have the same or greater access to social resources as the current generation (“inter-generational equity”), while there should also be equal access to social resources within the current generation (“intra-generational equity”). Social resources include ideas as broad as other cultures and basic human rights.” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia