What is social sustainability?
The following module will teach you about social sustainability. You will do exercises and develop your skills in creating a more socially sustainable world. All the sustainable development goals are mutually dependent on one another. Which is why, some of the tasks or ideas you will get in the following material, might be a repetition of what you have experienced, when you have been working with the SDGs previously.
The following video also gives an introduction to the division of sustainability:
Social Sustainability emphasizes the importance of human wellbeing, security, equality etc. in order to secure a long healthy life, where the responsibility of taking care of every human being as good as possible is a common one, meaning that it is everyone’s responsibility to secure social sustainability everywhere. It is not a nation state task, we are not finished with securing social sustainability, until it is equally accessible across borders, languages, ethnicities, religions, capabilities, genders and so on.
See this video (3 min.)
Social sustainability is about goals 1,2,3,4,5,10,11 and 16. Some of the words and sentences that defines this theme is:
- Social safety.
- Equal access to education.
- Human equality.
- Lifelong learning.
- Active aging.
- Equal access to stabile health care.
So why is this important?
Social, Economic, and Environmental sustainability are constantly in interaction with each other. We cannot have a socially sustainable world, if people are growing up in poverty, which is about economic sustainability. We cannot have an economically sustainable world, as long as our resources and investments are placed in fossil fuels and unsustainable energy sources, which is dependent on climate and environmental sustainability.
Therefore, the importance of social sustainability is equally as important as the rest, in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Some places in the world, the biggest problems of not reaching social sustainability are about the lack of access to education (e.g., for girls in Afghanistan), gender inequality and so on. But actually, this problem is just as important in the Western countries and EU countries, which now we will have some cases about.
Case study 1 Mental Health Crisis – The Silent Pandemic
During the last decades and especially after the COVID-19 crisis, the mental health of young people is in extremely bad conditions. A lot of young people are suffering from loneliness, depression, anxiety and so on. This is a significant crisis that needs to be tackled to defeat social unsustainability, as mental health problems are creating huge difficulties with education, diseases (eating disorders), economical inequality and so on.
The EU has created a “Youth Strategy” which is trying to combat some of the issues the young people are facing. In the strategy the EU have formulated 11 goals, which will create a better world for young people in the union. The 5th goal is about mental health and health in general. The young people have spoken about the problems themselves, which will be presented in a minute. But first, have a talk with the students about, why they think young people today are facing big mental health issues:
5 min. reflections or talk with the person next to you:
- What is the biggest problem for young people that creates mental health disorders?
(If they can’t think of anything, try mentioning social media, social distancing during COVID, competition in the school system etc.)
Take 5 minutes to hear the answers of the students and link them to what you have just told them.
The young people have pointed at media and social media as one of the main sources to give them insecurities about their life, their choices, and in the end, what affects their mental health. Media and SoMe are portraying a perfect life, where the ultimate goal is to be happy all the time, as this was a reality. This gives the young people a feeling of having failed in life, when they are comparing themselves to the media and influencers portraying life. SoMe portrays the perfect life, the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect family as an easy, realistic, and essential way of life, as the only possible success.
Besides from the media, the young people point at the huge competition that is present in the society. This is about grades, career, sports etc. where you always must be the best to have a future that is valuable and well regarded according to the norms in society.
Every year the EU also facilitates a Mental Health Week, which would be interesting to follow online:
So how can we find solutions to this problem, in order to secure a more socially sustainable world?
The young people who have contributed to the EU Youth Strategy, have come up with some wishes and solutions to the mental health issue.
- More information about mental health and where to get help, before it gets too bad!
- Better career guidance, which puts emphasis on the individual and not on status.
- Accessible activities in their spare time.
Case Study 2– War on European Ground
The war in Ukraine is affecting the whole world and especially the European Countries at the moment. The war creates both bad conditions for the climate and for the economy, but especially also for the humans involved and around the war – both in Ukraine, Russia and other countries.
In a world where social sustainability is present, there will not be war. According to the sustainable development goals, we have to have a world where peace, cooperation, partnerships and safe societies are essential to ensure social sustainability.
Currently young people in Ukraine are growing up, fearing their lives, their families’ lives, some places finding it hard attending their education, they are freezing where their homes have been bombed and they have a lack of food and clean water. This is extremely hurtful to experience this and can traumatize people through their whole life.
So, now we know that a lot of the themes in the term about social sustainability are about the interactions between people, security, health, equality etc. We can link this to a lot of agreements, legislations and initiatives around the world e.g. the human rights, NATO, EU and other corporations, where they work to ensure a more socially sustainable world in the future.
So, depending on which country you live, these goals have different meanings. Equality between genders means something in Greece and something else in Afghanistan.
The important thing to learn about Social Sustainability is that we are not finished with working on this agenda, until we all have access to the same rights anywhere in the world. We are not done before everyone is included! Therefore, this agenda is just as important to the students in a class in an EU country, as it is anywhere else in the world, as it makes us world citizens.
The rest of this material will be about how to work with this theme with the students and young people.