What is Social Sustainability?

Updated on May 24, 2016

Social sustainability is the most common way we all partake in the sustainable way of life. We may not understand its terminology or see how things common to our basic lives relate to the larger scheme of society, but in the most personal ways social sustainability relates to us all.

Consider these questions: Are you happy with your life? Are you satisfied with where you live? Do you have adequate provisions? What about healthcare? Do you feel secure? Do you feel that you have a voice in the way your community is run? Do you have equal access to education and employment in your town?

The answers are the subject of social sustainability, which seeks to enhance the quality of life for all.

Social Sustainability Indicators

Social sustainability is the practice of creating a diverse and equitable society that successfully meets the basic social needs of citizens. Basic, however, is a broad term in this context because there are very many things we all require daily, consistently, or as-needed. Study the chart of basic needs below.

domicile, food, clothing, health, satisfaction, personal freedom, safety, product safety
Social Resources
welfare, community programs, governance, democracy, politics, justice, solidarity
Equal Opportunity
equity, employment, income, education, housing, voting rights, labor rights
community, pluralism, cultural education, appreciation, interaction, integration

Which is the most important sector of sustainable development?

See results

The Problems of Social Sustainability

As you can see, what is necessary for quality living is comprehensive, and life without just one of those criteria can quickly become less enjoyable. Unfortunately, this is the case for many people globally, even in the wealthiest nations, that do not have their basic needs fulfilled.

And herein we discover the issues that make social sustainability a challenge. For instance, we all have product needs (raw materials: environmental sustainability) that many parties work to satisfy (production and trade: economic sustainability). But equitable distribution of resources sometimes becomes problematic—hardly due to machinations but rather for competing needs that vie for limited resources.

Sometimes the needs are not competing to the degree that they conflict. A new factory in town that will drive down unemployment figures but possibly jeopardize the health of workers or citizens breathing the contents released in the air—well that’s a problem.

Great YouTube Perspective on Social Sustainability

Definition: Social Equity

the act of strengthening the representation of all people in the decision-making process

The Costs of Social Unsustainability

Sometimes it is the small things—the fact that people have no help for childcare, that some have no social supports—that produce a huge outcome. This is very often the case when towns make cuts in public spending. Usually it is the needful social programs that get cut, the ones that do the most to support a quality of life and for the most vulnerable citizens—and who can know the impact such decisions make?

These lessons have been learned the hard way: high unemployment, declining neighborhoods overrun with crime, excessive drop-out rates, and violence. Social programs hold society together and without them communities can suffer long-term negative distress.


Power to the People

How then is a community to keep social goals balanced? Well there isn’t an easy answer. Imbalance issues can be expected. Yet the impact of such occurrences can be mitigated.

Political participation at the local level is important. People must feel that they have a voice in the governing process of their communities. Apathy only furthers the imbalance that deprives people of their basic needs. A community that fosters inclusion can expect better policy and long-term outcomes for its citizens.

Think about it: Involvement can only relieve the fallout that results when basic needs are not met. Citizens are able to personally understand the factors responsible for certain problems—and this can be eye-opening. Many times problems do not lie with the local government, which is often criticized; but other kinks exist elsewhere in the process of resources getting to the people. So a better informed citizenry gives power to the people in making decisions for themselves.

Social Building Blocks to Happiness

The need for services will never end. Moreover, the task is to meet those needs head-on and to discover ways to deal with the shortfalls that threaten the wellbeing of all. There is a high cost to low quality living. So much can be done to build lasting, happy communities, but it will take more than constructing buildings to building the reinforcements of a socially sustainable society.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago


      you are grate

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      8 years ago from Danville, VA

      Thank you, CleverCat! The "costs"...we must remember that sustainability has people at its core.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Excellent and thought-provoking Hub. The costs of social UNsustainability are indeed troublesome. Thank you so much for an excellent read!

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      8 years ago from Danville, VA

      Thanks, K9keystrokes! I think the People don't know how much power lies in their hands to make change.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      I totally agree with you that, at the community level of government, we must feel enough power to sustain our social well-being! Very helpful hub.


    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      8 years ago from Danville, VA

      Nifwlseirff, your comment is poignant and well-stated. You get it. It MUST be more about people than our bottom lines. "Difficult" is right, "impossible"...very likely.

    • profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 

      8 years ago from Germany

      Governments always seem to look for ways to cut back on programs that support social sustainability - health support, childcare and education, public amenities and transport ...

      Perhaps more effort should also be made by individuals to create, participate in and care for their local community, but the usual claim of no time/energy to spare wins.

      Companies could also contribute more, instead of worrying only about the bottom line. Cutting spending on safety, environmental and social support activities within a company is unsustainable.

      It is certainly difficult to get the see-saw to balance out in all aspects, and it may be impossible.

    • ithabise profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael S 

      8 years ago from Danville, VA

      Sometimes it's amazing things ever move forward because of the push-and-pull of conflicting interests. Ideals will always be but life is lived where compromise abounds. Balance can be so difficult. Thanks for your comment, cclitgirl!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      Very interesting points here, ithabise. I am loving your sustainability theme. It's so true: every time something "good" comes up, i.e. a factory, the downside is the environmental pollutants that will undoubtedly follow. Great, well-researched hub. :)


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