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What is Social Sustainability?

Updated: Jul 17


When we talk about sustainability, 'eco-friendly' is the most popular term that comes to mind. Unsurprising, since by being eco-friendly, we are sustaining the world to avoid extinction. But there is a reason why here at Well-Made World, we not only talk about green and economic sustainability, but we talk about racial or mental health issues.


Definition of Social Sustainability

According to Emma Partridge from Institute for Sustainable Futures, social sustainability is an effort to provide wellbeing to every human. Particularly to create a livable and healthy community so humans can be sustainable and allow future generations to develop themselves.

To achieve a socially sustainable society, we have to ensure that we enable everyone in our community. 'Everyone' means no exception, regardless of identities, to live the fullest of their potential.


By now, you probably have ideas on how huge this topic is to ensure every person has equal opportunities. From social justice to community development, we can put all these under the social sustainability umbrella.


Why does it matter?

Simply put, we want humans to continue living for generations to come and innovate to adapt to the ever-changing world. Additionally, social sustainability is also one of the three pillars of sustainability that people rarely know or discuss. It makes you wonder why social welfare is put way behind ecological and economic issues when we know it is just as important. If we only focus on the environmental aspect of sustainability, it will increase our planet's survivability. However, without minding the social feature, people will not be able to thrive to the best of their ability, which ultimately defeats the purpose of sustainability.


Investing in social sustainability also helps communities to become stronger when overcoming natural and social hardships. For instance, one research found that in the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Japanese communities with higher social capital can rebuild their infrastructures and community faster.


So when you think about it, social sustainability allows communities to bounce back, something we desperately need in the world that grows to be more individualistic. When we thrive together, you know what they say, happy communities provide productive workers. Hence, by trying to help individuals to be content and able, the communal economic condition will also elevate. It will then allow them to invest more money into creating a livable environment for everyone. As you can see, even national welfare depends on their investment in social wellbeing - literally.


Case Study

Let us look at Sweden, one of the countries with the highest Human Development Index (HDI). HDI measures a country based on the longevity of its citizens, education, and a decent standard of living. To give you an idea, among countries around the world, the United States currently ranked 17th, while Sweden ranked 7th.


The country is known as a country that promotes gender equality. When a child is adopted or born, both parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave. Both parents can share this maternity leave period between them.


In many countries, a pregnant woman is often not desirable for hiring because they need maternity leave not long after they work. From a hiring standpoint, a company would still need to pay their employees even when they are not in the office to take care of their children. Hence cruelly, pregnant applicants are considered an additional financial burden for a company. However, in Sweden, a country that has done a great job in maintaining equal opportunity, it is against the law to discriminate hiring against pregnant applicants or to fire someone over pregnancy.


As you may have guessed, one of the best healthcare systems exists in Sweden. No wonder that the Good Country Index ranked Sweden 9th for providing prosperity and equality. In the same index, Sweden ranks 3rd in its investment in health, wellbeing, and childcare. Unsurprisingly they rank 1st overall in their contribution within and outside of their country. If this does not sound appealing enough, six-hour workdays are starting to become common in the country. The shorter work hours allow families to spend more time together and promote a healthy work-life balance.


Now, for the big reveal. Sweden has a low employment rate ranging from 8-10% in 2019. Additionally, it has a healthy GDP of 530.9 billion USD in the same year, slightly higher than Germany and Japan. So the big question is how Sweden manages to provide a copious amount of welfare benefits while profiting?


That is right. Sweden invests heavily in social sustainability.


Examples of Social Sustainability Practices

1. Schools

Schools need to make sure that there is equal opportunity in hiring, meaning hiring staff from different backgrounds without discrimination. Similarly, students, regardless of who they are, shall be treated equally and respectfully. The facility can also provide teaching on combating discrimination of any kind and create an inclusive environment.


2. Work

Companies should pay attention to safety, health, and equal benefits to their employees. Creating rules that protect worker rights and endorse fair labor maintains social sustainability at work. Giving back to the community or philanthropy also increases social sustainability. And it will only impact one single workplace but also the communities.

3. Community

Create a democratic community where everyone who lives there can be involved in decision-making. To provide equal opportunity for all, we need to create an inclusive environment. Therefore, accessibilities, health care, and providing resources to combat discrimination can become a community's first steps in ensuring that everyone gets to reach their fullest potential. We need to take notes from Japan, which invested its time and effort into social capital. The investment pays off with the community resilience against disaster, build initiative, and teamwork that expedites community building.


Hopefully, the government and communities can put social welfare high up on their list as the other two aspects of sustainability. Who knows? Perhaps your country can be the next Sweden once they pay more attention to resolving social issues, strive for equality, and enhance social welfares.


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