The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) accounting framework goes beyond the traditional measurement of shareholder value to include environmental and social dimensions. Just as environmental and economic factors of the TBL are calculated, so too must be human factors. From a corporate perspective, social sustainability is about understanding impacts on people and society. It is about assessing potential harms, needs, and desires. It is also about proactive contributions toward human development and wellbeing now and in the future. Social sustainability is the least quantifiable part of sustainability or the triple bottom line.
What are some examples of corporate issues involved with social sustainability? How is social sustainability linked with economic and environmental sustainability?
Within the company, social sustainability involves such prominent areas as human rights, fair labor practices, and health, safety, and wellness. It also involves more nuanced areas such as diversity, equity, work-life balance, and empowerment. Outside the company, social sustainability involves community engagement, philanthropy, and volunteerism among others. Social sustainability is also reflected in product responsibility, including product performance, safety, and standards.
The social aspects of sustainability interrelate with the economic and environmental dimensions. For example, a large part of individuals’ social sustainability depends on the quality of their employment. This includes how a company treats them, how fulfilling their job is, or whether they make enough money to support a decent quality of life. The environment also has an effect on social sustainability. The physical environment in which we live and enjoy recreation is important for human and ecological well-being alike.
What is the benefit of accounting for social sustainability?
Companies that consider social sustainability recognize the value of their relationships with people, communities, and society. They make social responsibility a core business strategy. They think about how their activities affect people. For example, opening an operating facility in a particular location might have environmental, economic, and social impacts. All three need to balance (and create value) to have the best possible and most sustainable outcome. When we understand the impacts we have on people (both positive and negative), we can put in place strategies to create a better outcome.
So, how can you be proactive in your approach to social sustainability?
The short answer is to consider the social impacts of everything you do. This includes business strategy, management and operations, projects, programs and policies. Simply put, by eliminating negative social outcomes you can improve the quality of life for people – employees, clients, consumers, and citizens. At the same time you can improve operational, reputational, and social performance. And while it’s not easy to put a number or ROI on that value, the value should not be underestimated.
To be most successful, companies need to take an active (not reactive) approach to looking at people and social impacts. They need to look at social outcomes not only in the short term, but also in the long run. This will help you engage your workforce and create an attractive and coveted workplace. On a grander scale, it will help reduce negative human and social outcomes such as poverty, inequality, segregation, exclusion, crime, and safety to name a few.
This may require a shift in mindset among management and employees. Start with a few well-crafted projects to assess perspectives and needs. Small wins will develop over time into a culture that breeds loyalty and excellence.
Need help finding some social sustainability quick wins? Sign up for a demo to see how the Sustrana Project Selector can help you find your best opportunities.