What On Earth Is ‘Social Sustainability’?

We Say It, But Do We Mean It?

That's Scott alright! by Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO




We hear it all the time, and we repeat it just as often:  “The Triple Bottom Line.”  “People, Planet, Profits.”  “Ecology, Economy, Equity.”


Talk is cheap, methinks.

Action speaks louder than words.  And I think the words to actions ratio is way too high.

term coined by John Elkington, for those who want to know...

And when I look for the real truth of the People/Equity piece of this equation – what has come to be called “Social Sustainability,” I hear a lot of resounding silence.

We all – and I don’t see Brightworks as any exception – need to do a better job at attending to the human dimension of sustainability.  Else sustainability will remain the province of what detractors  gleefully call the work of latte drinking elitists.

SBL Briefing Paper

The Social Bottom Line Briefing Paper (click to download)

Yes, we at Brightworks have had the privilege of working on two LEED-certified affordable housing projects (here and here).  And we spend a lot of time internally exploring how we can meaningfully integrate social sustainability considerations into our work more effectively.  And we have a long way to go.

In fairness to ourselves and others striving to make real inroads into the arena where social equity and ecological conservation align, this is one of the newest fields within the broader sustainability landscape, and the thought leadership is really just beginning to take meaningful shape.

Fortunately, here in Portland (our company home town), some of the leading work is emerging from Portland State University and the work of a terrific innovator and scholar named Janet Hammer.

Download Janet’s latest work on the social bottom line and deepen your understanding of the issue and the tools to address it.  Three more resources here, here and here.

And let us know what you think.  And let’s move this forward together.  Or we’re not going to make the meaningful lasting change to which we aspire.

3 Comments to “What On Earth Is ‘Social Sustainability’?”

  1. Very excited about linking with your “meaningful lasting change” link…I am leading a book discussion on March 9th on said subject.
    Your housing projects look amazing …I spent over an hour exploring all your links. I really liked this post.

    Do You know YES! Magazine?

  2. Thank you for your good words…I was just reading your Einstein post and thinking that is what JD Meier is talking about in his new book about Agile thinking…www.sourcesofinsight.com
    JD is a program manager extraordinaire at Microsoft….and a prolific writer…I wish he did in person workshops because he just inspires people’s socks right off….FYI….

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