As mentioned in our environmental sustainability blog post, capital “S” Sustainability is multifaceted. Of the three major branches of sustainability, social sustainability can be difficult to get a grip on. It is tough to quantify and can therefore feel nebulous, which is why it’s often overlooked. However, social sustainability is integral for the health of people, planet, and profit moving forward.

What is social sustainability? 

Calls for social sustainability have emerged in recent decades as community members and world leaders see injustice, unrest, sickness, and misery in many of our communities. There are many definitions of social sustainability, but we like this one from the Western Australia Council of Social Services:

 “Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes; systems; structures; and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.

To get your head in the social sustainability zone, consider these social sustainability performance issues: human rights, fair labor practices, living conditions, health, safety, wellness, diversity, equity, work-life balance, empowerment, community engagement, philanthropy, volunteerism, and access to green spaces. When these elements are in abundance and in balance for everyone in a community, that community is strong –  in other words, it is sustainable. This kind of society is better able to respond to and recover from internal and external shocks. 

We know that the global climate crisis disproportionately affects people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, women, formerly colonized countries, and low income families and communities. Practicing social sustainability and building communities which are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic, and provide a good quality of life will help insulate vulnerable groups from the disproportionate effects of climate change. Beyond environmental justice, social sustainability practices effectuate economic, social, and racial justice as well.

You can find a great video explaining social sustainability further here

Social sustainability and the Co-op

While many aspects of creating socially sustainable communities should fall to municipal, state, and federal governments, businesses, like the Co-op, have an important role to play as well. We would even go so far as to say businesses have a responsibility to engender social sustainability in the communities in which they operate. The 7th Cooperative Principle, concern for community, guides the Co-op’s social sustainability efforts. In addition to regularly donating to community organizations and hosting community events, we strive towards social sustainability as an employer (e.g. every Co-op employee earns a living wage). This year, we’re working with National Co-op Grocers to more closely examine our social sustainability efforts, including diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Next steps

If you’re wondering what you can do to be more socially sustainable, you can start here. Volunteering for community organizations or donating to mutual aid organizations is a great way to get involved with your community, but be sure to adjust your perspective. Don’t think of donating time or money as “charity”. Think of it as solidarity and community building. 

If you own or operate a business, think about what you can do for your employees. Can you offer your employees longer breaks or make healthcare available to them? Maybe you can make biking to work a little easier or make a serious effort to actively hire from groups that have historically been excluded from the workplace. 

Communities won’t become sustainable overnight. Environmental, social, and economic sustainability efforts will require hard work from nearly everyone. If you are feeling overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Stay tuned for our next blog post about economic sustainability.

Join us for a celebration of our planet!

We will be closing down a portion of the Davis Food Co-op parking lot for a collection of activities, information, community organizations, giveaway, a plant swap, music and food. Stop by between 12-4 pm on Sunday, April 18th.