Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Network Priorities for Social Sustainability Research and Education: Memorandum of the Integrated Network on Social Sustainability Research Group

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Network Priorities for Social Sustainability Research and Education: Memorandum of the Integrated Network on Social Sustainability Research Group

Article excerpt


The notion of "sustainability" includes environmental, economic, and social aspects. Social sustain-ability in particular is a quality of society that promotes enduring conditions for human welfare, especially for vulnerable persons or groups.[1] Much research on and planning for social sustainability goes by other names. For instance, work on issues of environmental or social justice, examining how the lives and status of susceptible or marginalized populations can be improved, is a research topic for the Integrated Network on Social Sustainability (INSS) (Boström, 2012). Research and innovation to overcome food insecurity is another example of a social justice issue. Scholars of food systems have also identified community innovations that meet requirements for sustainability, although these inter-ventions have limited applicability given the needs and circumstances of human populations around the globe (Marsden, 2013; Hankins & Grasseni, 2014; Arora et al. 2015). Cities with transportation plans that facilitate the access of low-income groups to amenities, education, and jobs provide yet another example of attention to social-justice concerns (Fischer & Amekudzi, 2011).

For INSS, this work qualifies as social sustainability research, as does that from numerous social groups that approach the topic with different priorities based on the specific needs and concerns of their constituencies. A recent publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) examines the need for socio-technical systems that are inclusive of vulnerable and marginalized people to achieve community resilience. The report develops a list of measures of vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience in the face of climate change. Patterson (2015) explains that on a local governmental level, "The aim is for city planners, community organizations, elected officials, and others to consider these equity-based indicators of resilience as they design adaptation plans." Among businesses, corporate social responsibility is a rubric with which firms approach social sustainability. The NAACP and business organizations have developed various measures to evaluate whether projects meet social sustainability goals and how these initiatives achieve them.[2]

The concerns of engineering organizations for sustainable development have influenced their attention to sustainability directives in their codes of practice. For example, in 1993 the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued a policy on sustainability and then in 1996 amended its first Code of Ethics Canon to include sustainability as follows:[3]

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.

The INSS focus on social aspects of sustainability includes a commitment to inclusion and diversity in research, education, and practice. Including a broad spectrum of disciplines and practitioners will require frameworks and methodologies that align diverse, practice-specific lexicons for social sustainability. Developing these approaches is a key challenge for social sustainability researchers if they are to coalesce into a coherent field.

Engineering for Sustainability

Engineers interested in sustainable development should be able to take social sustainability into account in their projects. However, their efforts are often frustrated by the imprecision of the concept, the differences in priorities of project stakeholders, and the lack of appropriate training. For instance, training pays little attention to the influence of engineering and technology on social systems or how those systems interrelate with other sustainability goals (Jones et al. 2015). Differences in priorities raise conflicts over project goals; again, engineers are poorly prepared to cope with such differences. …

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