Social sustainability means the aspects of sustainability that relate to people. It implies an equitable society that does not adopt practices that discriminate against or exclude certain groups. It involves providing everyone within society with equal opportunities to reach their potential and generate livelihoods. And also represents the relationship between nature and society and the relationships between people within that society.
Until the last decade, social sustainability was a relatively neglected dimension of discussions about sustainable development or sustainability. Sustainability as a concept dominated every field. But, we paid very little attention to social sustainability. The three pillars of sustainability are environmental, economic, and social. Many scientists and researchers have noted that people and governments have mainly neglected ‘the social’ or given it a lower priority than other dimensions of sustainability.
Social sustainability is vital to a community’s well-being and longevity. The concept of social sustainability revolves around how individuals, communities, and societies live with one another. It also concerns how individuals or groups go about achieving development considering their area’s physical boundaries and the Earth as a whole. It blends traditional principles, like equity and health, with current issues, such as needs, the economy, the environment, and notions of well-being, happiness, and quality of life.
Social sustainability also means creating successful and sustainable places that promote well-being. We achieve this by understanding what people need from the places they live and work in. A society comprises people and the places they live and work in. Therefore, it is as much a physical realm as a social realm. It also combines designs of the social and physical worlds and creates features like the infrastructure to support social lives and systems that promote engagement among citizens.
Principles of Social Sustainability
1. Inclusive and Resilient Societies
Inclusivity, justice, and resilience are the building blocks of social sustainability. The citizens of these societies can voice their opinions freely, and governments listen and respond. Socially sustainable societies support poverty reduction and growth.
Social sustainability occurs alongside environmental and economic sustainability. It helps a society’s vulnerable and marginalized population overcome the barriers preventing it from fully participating in society. It means supporting peoples’ efforts to shape their own future and creating societies that are more inclusive, enhancing the empowerment of citizens, and it fosters more resilient and peaceful communities.
2. Addressing deep-rooted systematic inequalities and creating opportunities for everyone
Discriminating against and excluding marginal groups come at a high cost to people and the economy. Economists have estimated that the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality is 160.2 trillion dollars. People of African descent continue to experience high levels of poverty in the Americas. In developing countries, 90% of children with disabilities do not attend school. Today, 70 countries have criminalized homosexuality.
Social sustainability focuses on increasing opportunities for all these marginalized groups. In a socially sustainable society, these groups can fully participate in services, markets, and society itself.
3. Supporting people to be drivers of their own solutions
It empowers people to be drivers and architects of their own solutions for growth and poverty reduction. It means improving basic infrastructure and community services within society to help residents, especially the most vulnerable, develop their livelihoods and reaches their potential. And also strengthens the capacity of residents to engage with regional and local governments.
4. Creating Resilient Societies
It creates opportunities for people living in the most challenging environments to thrive. A socially sustainable society can withstand divisions caused by violence and conflict. It can also withstand external shocks, such as climate change and pandemics.
5. The Environment and Social Frameworks
Social sustainability protects people and the environment. It builds a country’s capacity to environmentally and socially manage its resources. Social sustainability overcomes challenges in social frameworks, such as gender-based violence. It empowers all genders, improves labor and working conditions, and includes disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in discussions.
Community Resilience and Fighting Climate Change
So far, we’ve learned that the inclusion and development of all communities within a society are vital to social sustainability. In earlier times, federal land management agencies were in charge of communities’ well-being, and they would decide what was good for a community. Community members had passive roles to play in their own well-being. But today, communities are increasingly becoming the primary and active agents in their own development and well-being.
Risk and resilience are often related in crisis management, such as managing the impacts of climate change. When adversity or disaster presents itself, resilient communities are easily able to develop the resources to cope with its after-effects.
The community members’ local and traditional knowledge, experience, and understanding of the environment play a crucial role in community resilience against climate change impacts. Governments can accept their contributions as complementary to the conventional management of emissions. This ensures that communities are included in management institutions, enhancing social sustainability. The well-being of a community plays an important role in developing community resilience. When we have community resilience and social sustainability, we’ll have a better chance of protecting our environments and reducing climate change impacts.
Social sustainability is the key to a community or society’s ability to cope and adapt to environmental disasters associated with a changing climate. The most effective responses in the aftermath of a disaster often come from communities themselves. By enhancing community resilience through social sustainability, we can hope to have a better chance of surviving the impacts of climate change and breaking through to a new, greener world where the environment and communities are protected, included, and given equal opportunities.
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