So you have put in place environmental actions and processes inside the organization, measured CO2 emissions, placed recycling bins across your offices and replaced unnecessary paper for software. And now what?
The term sustainability has been used so widely across industries and organizations that it’s easy to loose track of its meaning and everything that it actually implies, or should imply.
Traditionally, the main aspect of its definition that has been most extensively understood and implemented is the environmental one. Those elements regarding nature, emissions, waste, and overall, as the word itself implies, the tangible impact corporate actions have on the environment.
But as much as we advocate and will keep on pushing for environmental and climate action, we cannot forget that it is in fact people who have the power to carry on such actions. And it is this idea that gets us to believe people need to feel that indeed they have that power to change things and make them better. This is precisely where social sustainability comes in.
What is social sustainability?
Are my company’s environmental efforts not enough? Is my sustainability strategy incomplete? Those are fair questions to ask. But maybe the answer lies in understanding what social sustainability is, and consequently realize its importance for sustaianbility to thrive in all of its glory.
At the core, social sustainability is about people. And although it can appear quite abstract at first glance, it really is quite simple: sustainability is the idea and the means through which organizations and any societal entity can help ensure future generations enjoy as many resources and clean air as their past counterparts.
So it makes sense to think about environmental sustainability. But as important as it is to take care of the physical aspects, we cannot ignore human needs.
Social sustainability and SDGs
The easiest way to understand what these human needs for present and future generations to enjoy equally are is to look at the Sustainable Development Goals. The latter give quite a comprehensive view of what sustainability means and implies. This includes social elements such as education, gender equality, peace, fight against corruption or inequality, and decent working conditions, to mention a few.
While environmental sustainability tries to ensure people will have the necessary resources to thrive and live comfortably, social sustainability fights for an equal distribution of those resources and opportunities for everyone. Is the part of sustainability that leaves no one behind, understanding that there are many pending issues that prevent environmental sustainability to be a reality for everyone.
Social sustainability in business
Social sustainability is important for individuals and for society, and logically, it is also quite relevant for it to be addressed in the corporate world. But this is not a new idea. Companies don’t tend to do all that well when society is struggling in some way.
Furthermore, all of the social sustainability elements mentioned above are great drivers for change. Think of education bringing more and better talent into the workplace, or gender equality letting diversity grow inside every level of the company.
The first thing that should come to mind when thinking about people and business is stakeholders. Having clear understanding of which are your company’s stakeholders and how does your business affect them is as crucial as having good financial results. Once you can identify these people is only a matter of time and effort to learn how to take care of them as well as their natural surroundings.
How can your company start working on social sustainability?
As we have said before, stakeholders (or people) are the main element that should drive any company’s social sustainability efforts, so let’s begin unpacking:
We can talk about people inside the company and outside. Inside means looking at employees, as well as other people encompassing the supply and value chain (suppliers, consumers). Outside means looking at the community as well as society as a whole.
What actions can be taken inside the company to promote social sustainability?
Well, just to name a few: implement and work around DEI policies to make them part of the company culture; improve health and safety measures for your employees and work on processes to ensure your supply chain meets your standards; similarly, ensure fair labor practices, like for example, equal pay or the freedom of association.
What actions can be taken to advocate for social sustainability outside the company?
Here is where it gets a little tricky, as the power of influencing the community and society is not guaranteed, but with the right coherence between practices and words, and just enough transparency, one company can turn things around for an entire community of people.
The first step is to be engaged with the community through its associations, charities or just local sports teams or schools who need extra support. Additionally, companies can have tremendous public and political influence; standing up for what you think is right and advocating for specific issues affecting the community and society can be great channels for advancing social sustainability.
The power of employees to advance social and environmental sustainability
In DoGood we advocate for the importance of making small but meaningful changes in our everyday life in order to find purpose and a more healthy relationship with what is around us.
We also believe that working collectively can help us find that which alone may seem unattainable or useless. That is why we think the workplace is the perfect environment to find that collective eagerness to make a difference, both for the sustainability and purpose of the company and a more sustainable way of being for all employees.
Through our technology we help companies establish ESG impact objectives for employees in regards to the sustainability strategy of the company. We are able to activate and track employees’ impact, creating engagement that translates into improved ESG metrics, reputational value and an overall positive impact for the environment and society.