Things You Need to Know About Social Sustainability

Sustainability is the ability to meet and provide the resources the current generation needs without having to compromise how future generations can do the same. This involves three pillars namely people, profit, and planet that also refer to social, economic, and environmental sustainability. 

Environmental sustainability involves the conservation of natural resources and protection of global ecosystems to ensure that future generations have the same, if not, more abundant resources to support their way of life. It entails living within the means of the earth’s resources and also means ensuring natural resources such as water, natural fuels, and other raw materials are consumed at a sustainable rate.

Economic sustainability involves practices that encourage the long-term economic development and growth of a community or a country. It requires countries and communities to use resources available to them efficiently and responsibly to not only produce operational profit but also operate more sustainably. 

Oftentimes, more importance is placed on environmental and economic sustainability with more action focused on investments, renewable resources, and promoting carbon management, leaving social sustainability overlooked.

But what is social sustainability? Social sustainability is concerned with the people aspect of sustainability. It involves creating a livable space that supports peoples’ social and cultural lives, provides basic needs and other amenities, and allows for citizen engagement by combining physical community design with social structure. These spaces promote peoples’ well-being by understanding and providing what people need from where they live and work and are composed of residents with various backgrounds and ages to become a place people would want to reside in the long-term.

Here are other things you need to know about social sustainability.


According to Indian economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, these are the dimensions of social sustainability:

  • Equity – giving fair opportunities for everyone in the community to prosper and excel especially for the poorest and most vulnerable members, those caught in conflict and violence-stricken areas, displaced persons, nomads, and refugees
  • Diversity – including members of different cultures, races, faiths, sexual orientation, and disabilities, assessing and providing for their needs, and educating others in the community about these different views
  • Social cohesion or interconnectedness – building links between different groups in a community through different structures, systems, and processes in place 
  • Quality of life – ensuring that basic needs like affordable housing, healthcare, education, safety, and employment are met for everyone in the community
  • Democracy and governance – making sure a community has an open and accountable governance structure in place 
  • Maturity – members of a community accept the responsibility of consistent and continuous growth and improvement through learning and accepting various social attributes  

Creating opportunities for all

Socially sustainable communities are focused on making opportunities, especially for marginalized groups, more abundant. Opportunities include improving the quality of education, health, and sanitation systems in indigenous communities, inclusion of persons with disabilities in schools, taking steps to tackle LGBTQ+ discrimination, and addressing gender and racial inequality, especially in the workforce. Addressing these inequalities and making opportunities available for everyone in the present can reduce instances of poverty and gives everyone, including future generations, hope for a better future.

Goal number 11

To achieve overall sustainability, in 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core of this effort. These goals are an integrated effort, to where action towards one goal affects the outcome of the other goals balancing environmental, economic, and social sustainability in the end.

The 11th of the 17 goals are focused on sustainable cities and communities and aims to achieve the following by 2030:

  • Give everyone access to safe and affordable housing and upgrade slum areas
  • Improve road safety and provide accessible, affordable, and safe transport systems for all, especially for women, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities
  • Increase efforts to protect natural and cultural heritage sites around the world
  • Provide accessible, inclusive, and safe green and public spaces for everyone, especially  women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons
  • Support underdeveloped countries in building sustainable and resilient structures using localized materials through financial and technical assistance 
  • Increase the number of cities and communities adopting policies geared toward inclusion, adaptation to climate change, resource efficiency, and resilience to disasters
  • Decrease economic losses, as well as reduce the number of lives lost and population affected by natural disasters by protecting the poor and persons caught in vulnerable situations like conflict and violence