Sustainable development is nowadays a high priority on most decision makers’ agendas worldwide. Most actors in society have agreed on the necessity of a global transition toward sustainability. We have noticed an increased focus on social sustainability, with challenges such as financial instability, increased social inequalities, refugees, unemployment and social exclusion.

In Sweden there are a number of good examples of transition from all sectors in society. Ecological sustainability challenges have been the main focus, and hence there is more extensive knowledge in this area. However, when it comes to social sustainability we have a long way to go and much to learn. The area is often described as elusive and value driven, and therefore more difficult to grasp.

To create a thriving society with a high level of welfare and life quality – now and in the future – all actors in society need to do much more than what is currently being done. To succeed, we need a much deeper comprehension of the complexity of sustainability challenges, the relationships between environmental, social and economic sustainability, and also, the gap between what we do today and what we need to do tomorrow.

The Natural Step’s methodology is based on four sustainability principles, which act as a framework for the challenges mentioned above, and creates opportunities in a changeable world. We have since 1989 been helping actors all over the world to accelerate their transition. The Natural Step has reinforced and concretized the principle for social sustainability by introducing five factors, which is founded on recent research, which are crucial for the maintenance of the social system.

• Health
• Influence
• Competence
• Impartiality
• Meaning

The five social factors constitute the framework for the playfield in which we need to play. With its help we can create a description of success, that is, what it looks like when an organization contributes to social sustainability. Based on this vision, strategic and economical routes can be chosen, which leads us to our future desired state.

The Natural Step has taken the initiative with Social Sustainability Lab to create a deeper comprehension of what social sustainability imply, and to encourage organizations to become strategic in terms of their social sustainability journey. Five organizations took part, all active in various ways within the areas of community development, infrastructure and construction. These organizations are Riksbyggen, Skanska, Stockholms Hamnar, Stockholms Läns Landsting and Vasakronan.

Read the report: Social Sustainability Lab