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Social sustainability

The social sustainability dimension largely concerns well-being, justice, power, rights and the needs of the individual. Some of these can be quantified and others are more qualitative. Both parts interact to jointly span the social dimension of sustainability. However, what this means in practice varies, depending on the prevailing context. Two examples of well-used and concrete proposals on what social sustainability means are the categories included in the UN Millennium Development Goals or Human Development Index.

The individual in focus

An individual has needs, physical and psychological, and own goals/dreams. Meeting the ability of the planet and all of the people to fulfil these at a global level is what social sustainability deals with. In this process, concepts such as justice, power, rights and trust become central to guiding us to human constellations that allow us to achieve our full potential.

Indicator systems

Various attempts have been made to define and quantify social sustainability. Indicator systems have been developed to measure, amongst other things, prosperity and development, which can approximate social sustainability. However, a disadvantage of using objectives and indicators to define sustainability is that they only describe the aspects that are included and can be quantified. What is excluded is rarely mentioned and is therefore rendered invisible. A selection of indicator systems is presented below.

Global objectives for sustainable development

In 2015, the world adopted 17 global objectives for economic, social and environmentally sustainable development as well as to work for their achievement by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs). There are 17 of them, with a total of 169 interim objectives. 

Global Goals for Sustainable Development (

Human Development Index

Human Development Index (HDI) includes and weighs together three dimensions: expected life expectancy, expected duration of education and welfare in terms of purchasing power and gross national income. You can find an introduction to HDI, including some criticism, on Wikipedia . You can find more information about HDI and other similar indexes on UNDP's website .

Human Development Index on Wikipedia

Human Development Data on UNDP's website

Happy Planet Index

Happy Planet Index is a socio-ecological index based on statistics on expected life expectancy, experienced well-being and ecological footprint.

Happy Planet Index website