Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved – or even worked towards – without social sustainability.
In light of events happening in the world right now—Black Lives Matter, Pride Month—we wanted to further explore what social sustainability is in relation to inclusivity, and why both are important in our fight against climate change and environmental degradation.
Social sustainability, what is it?
“Sustainability has always been linked to a core concept of human need so it is a fundamental contradiction to believe it can be achieved without improved social equity and social progress.” - Maria Adebowale
When discussing sustainability most people tend to focus more on environmental or economic issues and overlook the third tier.
The truth is that sustainability is multilayered and depends a great deal on supporting social infrastructures and cohesion. Think strong laws, democracy, peace, education, health, human rights and equality.
This is the essence of social sustainability—an inclusive society aimed at the continuous improvement of the quality of life on Earth for both current and future generations.
Everyone benefits from inclusivity
A key part of social sustainability; an inclusive society is one in which everybody is treated equally and is supported to access the means to make decisions and participate in public life, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, etc.
Evidence tells us that a more inclusive society leads to an improved society for all, not just minority groups. Benefits are peace, economic prosperity, and better overall decision making.
It’s no great stretch, then, to see how greater inclusivity is an important part of environmental sustainability too. Simply, societies are more resilient, and more people are empowered to contribute to solutions. For further reading, here’s a study outlining all the benefits.
Unfortunately, it’s often minority groups who are most affected by climate change and environmental damage, creating a vicious cycle of further inequality.
Activists in arms
For the above reason, there is a lot of crossover between environmental activism and social activism on the part of minorities. Many, such as the inspirational wastefreemarie, make the argument that they are two sides of the same coin.
Minorities tend to live in marginal, exposed areas and are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change and pollution. They’re also less likely to receive help from governments in times of crisis.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of governments and central banks have moved to support economies and protect the most vulnerable members of society by handing out money and investing in public projects.
As part of these stimulus packages, many groups are calling for a ‘green deal’ that promotes both social and environmental development.
This would be through a combination of the creation of jobs in the green sector and sustainable initiatives such as pedestrianising cities to decrease pollution. The benefits, both for the society and the environment, are there to be had.
Should we treat the environment as human?
How about going the ultimate distance and treating the environment as a person and award it similar rights? This has actually been tried in some places and is gaining some traction worldwide.
In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to include the rights of nature in its constitution. The process was backed by an Indigenous group that said that enshrining the rights of nature would expand their collective rights as indigenous peoples.
Often it is such minority groups who are nature’s natural guardians, but it was actually an American couple who first used the law to sue a mining company and successfully protect the rights of a river.
Since Ecuador, two more countries have followed suit and a number of countries have given similar rights to ecosystems like rivers, for example the Ganges in India and Taranaki in New Zealand.
What can you do?
Ensuring an inclusive society which everyone can participate in and feels a part of is beneficial for everyone, and will make us better prepared to face the challenges on the horizon.
Discrimination takes place at a local, national and international level. For those of us in more fortunate positions, it’s vital to lead by example and make sure our actions don’t discriminate against vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Part of this is showing your support to movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Pride, that fight for the rights of minorities by amplifying their voices, signing petitions and making donations if you can.