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  • Sunho Kim

What is Social Sustainability?

What do you think of when someone asks you about sustainability? Most people will come up with an answer related to the environment, such as renewable energy. Sustainability consists of three pillars: environmental, economic, and social. The environmental pillar is most well-known in sustainability. After the environmental pillar, people are familiar with the economic pillar. The social pillar is the least talked about in sustainability despite having equal importance to the other two. In this blog, I will further elaborate on social sustainability and its role in business.

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How to define Social Sustainability?

Social sustainability does not have a clear-cut definition. If you search the term "social sustainability," you will come across similar yet slightly different definitions, which may create confusion. Despite the variations, all the definitions share a commonality–social sustainability is all about the people! Social sustainability focuses on improving people's well-being and addressing their needs and therefore promotes the well-being of society. People have different takes on what well-being means to them, and various factors can account for well-being, which may be one of the reasons why social sustainability has a broad definition.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen explains social sustainability in the following dimensions:

  • Equity

  • Diversity

  • Social cohesion

  • Quality of life

  • Democracy and Governance

  • Maturity

Why is Social Sustainability important?

Social Sustainability tackles social Issues such as:

  • Human rights

  • Labour

  • Gender equality

  • Poverty

  • Decent living and working conditions

  • Health

  • Social equity

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What is Social Sustainability in Business?

Social sustainability is defined more specifically in the context of business. In business, social sustainability focuses on people directly and indirectly involved in the company.

People who are directly involved in the company, also known as internal stakeholders, are:

  • Employees

  • Managers

  • Owners

People who are indirectly involved in the company, also known as external stakeholders, are:

  • Suppliers

  • Local communities

  • Shareholders

  • Customers

  • Business partners

Social sustainability in business prioritizes relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. Strengthening the relationships with the stakeholders helps companies further their development and success.

What does Social Sustainability look like in Business?

Companies can enhance social sustainability by:

  • Paying a living wage - A living wage is sufficient to cover people's basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, etc. It is essential to distinguish between living and minimum wage because the latter does not necessarily cover all basic needs.

  • Improving work-life balance - Companies need to recognize that employees need time to rest and spend quality time with their loved ones. Improving work-life balance has a drastic impact on employees' productivity and performance. There are many ways to improve work-life balance for employees. Companies can create a flexible workplace for employees by offering flexible working hours and remote or hybrid work options. They can also encourage employees to take short breaks throughout the day and take a vacation to recharge.

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  • Incorporating diversity in the hiring process - Employees should feel included and safe in the company. To create a diverse workplace, companies should recruit people from different backgrounds. A benefit of hiring diverse talents is that they bring new, innovative perspectives to the company.

  • Giving back to the community - Companies should support charitable initiatives such as collaborating with nonprofit organizations, making donations, participating in volunteering activities, and contributing to social causes.

Final Thoughts

People need to increase their knowledge of social sustainability to better understand it. Sustainability is a balance of environmental, economic, and social. Sustainability is limited if the focus is only on two pillars.

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