"Social Sustainability" in Business Is About Assessing Impacts to People
As opposed to environmental sustainability, the goal of social sustainability is to identify and manage the effects of business, both positive and negative, on humans. It is less understood, because it hasn't been contemplated as long as its environmental counterpart, but it is quickly being recognized as equally important.
Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, suppliers, customers, and local communities. Social sustainability is the idea that these impacts must be managed in a way that preserves, if not improves, the social fabric.
The United Nations defines sustainability generally as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Applying this to social sustainability specifically means the creation of healthy and livable communities, ones that respect the following five principles: quality of life, equality, diversity, social cohesion, and governance.
Many global, respected institutions and individuals now recognize the importance of social sustainability, and countless numbers of them are talking about it. For example, Lila Karbassi, Programs Chief at the UN Global Compact, states that "Businesses’ social license to operate depends greatly on their social sustainability efforts."
Similarly, Adrian Henriques, author of "Corporate Impact – Measuring and Managing your Social Footprint," writes that, “Social impact includes anything that affects company-stakeholder relationships: from how much and how reliably suppliers are paid, to how a product affects lives. From how small shareholders may be treated to the impact of alcohol on health and communities.” Along the same lines, Lisa Geason-Bauer, CEO and Founder of sustainability consulting firm Evolution Marketing, says, "Sustainability in business can take many forms, but what they all have in common is the drive to achieve more than just financial gain."
Although social sustainability hasn't been around as long as its environmental cousin, it clearly has similar depth and importance.