Social Aspects of Sustainable Development

   If you want peace, work for justice

Pope Paul VI

In ‘Introducing Sustainable Development’ the terms development, sustainable and sustainable development were defined. We also covered the three components of sustainable development, these being social, environmental and economic. We will now take a look at the social implications of sustainable development.

A strong definition of social sustainability must rest on the basic values of equity and democracy, the latter meant as the effective appropriation of all human rights – political, civil, economic, social and cultural – by all people” (Sachs, 1999).

The big dilemma

Globally, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for numerous factors including reduced poverty, increased education, improved health, gender equality, empowering women amongst others. Achieving these not only poses an economic burden, but also an environmental one.

Take improved health; to achieve this, you must invest in infrastructure such as hospitals. Where do the money and materials come from?

Traditionally, major funding has been available from industries such as oil extraction, mining and tobacco to name a few examples. This funding source is likely to change as we move into new economies, presenting a challenge for access to finance for new projects. The environmental cost of solely building and running a hospital is very high, but it may be low when compared to the environmental impact of the economic source which is invisible to the end user and many of those involved in the decision making process at the planning stage.

Some might ask is the environment more important than improved health for everyone? This is not the kind of question that sustainable development asks. Rather, it questions how to improve health, and at the same time, assure the environment’s wellbeing. This is not an easy task, but the alternative is detrimental to humanity.

Decision-makers often find themselves coping with these dilemmas, and finding the best solution is not an easy task. However, remember that things are never as easy as they first appear. The complexities arise when issues come into conflict and debate begins on finding a compromise. It can be difficult to find solutions in which no-one loses out and this can lead to detailed discussions to find justice in which the balance meets all needs satisfactorily.

There is a vast opportunity before us for skilled and creative people who are willing to help you find a solution that benefits all aspects, and the sustainability profession is growing steadily with professional organisations such as IEMA leading the way.

The other side of the coin

Investing in social sustainability by default results in a healthier, more educated and environmentally aware population. In this context, even if the sources for development were not environmentally inclusive, the next generation will be empowered to change the past and apply modern sustainable development practices. Think of the United Kingdom, the industrial revolution emerged partly because of the extensive use of coal. The consequences of a “dirty” industrialisation are commonly known: the killer fog of 1952, and the great impact to health due to coal burning. Yet, today the British are living under improved environmental conditions and continuing to seek to do better.

Next week we will look at the Environmental pillar of Sustainable Development in more detail.


This post was prepared by Felipe Gaitan-Mejia, Environmental Strategist here at Catalicity. Follow @Catalicity on Twitter and sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date with all our blogs and news! 

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