Nowadays, we hear the word “sustainability” everywhere. In most cases, we talk of environmental efforts, but what of social sustainability? The concept relates to how businesses manage themselves and is defined by the UN as “identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people.” Ultimately, it’s about going beyond the usual environmental impacts to also measure and understand how an organisation’s activities affect the local communities, the people who work for the organisation and even customers. Social sustainability is an essential part of the social value chain, a concept similar to the LCA, focused on social issues. The social value chain requires businesses to map through all their activity stages the externalities and influences on certain issues. Mapping impact can be and should be done for products and services.
The idea of social sustainability rose to further prominence after the introduction, in 2015, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nation General Assembly. There are a total of 17 integrated goals covering the environment and people, to truly create the foundation for a sustainable future:
Companies with their influence, financial resources and technology can have a direct impact on the progress of these aforementioned goals, on communities who need it the most. Various companies are incentivised by governments and other parties to work towards these goals, shareholders are also increasingly interested in how companies handle social sustainability. Companies are now more pressured in the interests of not only their internal stakeholders but also that of external stakeholders (NGOs, local communities, communities associated with supply of raw material, etc). These objectives are monitored and tracked through what we call ESG reporting, sometimes done through an organisation’s own reporting, more often through existing frameworks such as GRI, SASB and the IIRC.
Social sustainability is not an end goal, but rather a progress-based notion. Companies need to be ready to continuously improve and make strategic changes, investments and collaborations with other entities to better their social impacts. Businesses and corporations have to proactively take on the duty of first being conscious of the effect of their activities and the impacts’ range, and second, implement direct actions to reduce possible harm or bring about positive outcomes (3).
- Our Work | UN Global Compact
- What is a Value Chain?
- Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations
- Navigating sustainability reporting frameworks
- What Is Social Sustainability? – Network for Business Sustainability (NBS)