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A missing pillar? Challenges in theorizing and practicing social sustainability: introduction to the special issue

Author(s): Magnus Boström

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 3;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: human-environment relationship | environmental sociology | socioeconomics | sustainable development | public policy

Since publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the notion of sustainable developmenthas come to guide the pursuit of environmental reform by both public and private organizations and to facilitate communication among actors from different societal spheres. It is customary to characterize sustainable development in a familiar typology comprising three pillars: environmental, economic, and social. The relationships among these dimensions are generally assumed to be compatible and mutually supportive. However, previous research has found that when policy makers endorse sustainable development, the social dimension garners less attention and is particularly difficult to realize and operationalize. Recent years though have seen notable efforts among standard setters, planners, and practitioners in various sectors to address the often neglected social aspects of sustainability. Likewise, during the past decade, there have been efforts to develop theoretical frameworks to define and study social sustainability and to empirically investigate it in relation to “sustainability projects,” “sustainability practice,” and “sustainability initiatives.” This introductory article presents the topic and explains some of the challenges of incorporating social sustainability into a broad framework of sustainable development. Also considered is the potential of the social sustainability concept for sustainability projects and planning. This analysis is predicated on the work represented in this special issue and on related initiatives that explicitly discuss the social pillar of sustainable development and its relationship to the other dimensions.
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