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Social Sustainability within the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A common criticism of the sustainability field is that definitions are vague and that the vast amount of different tools, methods and concepts leads to confusion. In response to this challenge, for the past 25 years a group of scientists has explored the possibility to develop an overarching and unifying framework that would allow for a structured overview of other concepts, methods and tools and therefore allow for concrete, strategic planning for sustainability. Over this 25-year period the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) has been tested in learning loops between scientists and practitioners and has continuously been developed. The aim of this research is to contribute specifically to the social sustainability definition of this framework, which has been found lacking both in theory and practice.

The research first establishes exactly in which ways the social dimension is underdeveloped, both from a theoretical and from a practitioner’s perspective. In addition, the research explores the general field of social sustainability in order to understand the larger field, but also to gather inspiration and understand similar approaches. This exploration leads to the conclusion that also the larger field of social sustainability is also under-developed and underscores the importance of this research.

Based on this conclusion, a new approach to social sustainability within the FSSD is created based on a systems approach to the social system. Various aspects of the social system are identified to be essential for sustainability, namely trust, common meaning, diversity, capacity for learning and capacity for self-organization. Then, overriding mechanisms by which these aspects of the social system can be degraded are identified. Based on the understanding of the essential aspects of the social system and the identified overriding mechanisms of degradation of these, a hypothesis for a definition of social sustainability by basic principles is presented. The proposed principles are, that in a socially sustainable society, people are not subject to structural obstacles to: (1) health, (2) influence, (3) competence, (4) impartiality and (5) meaning-making. These aim to function as exclusion criteria for re-design for social sustainability. The research then presents two evaluations of this new approach, one based on workshops and interviews with FSSD practitioners and one via an FSSD-analysis of ISO 26000. Both evaluations support this new approach as useful and workable, and also contribute to suggestions for further improvement. 

Overall, the research contributes with a hypothesis for a definition of social sustainability, which is general enough to be applied irrespective of spatial and temporal constraints, but concrete enough to guide decision-making and monitoring. This is a contribution to systems science in the sustainability field, and it is a step towards creating an enhanced support for strategic planning and innovation for sustainability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlskrona: Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, 2015.
Blekinge Institute of Technology Doctoral Dissertation Series, ISSN 1653-2090 ; 9
Keyword [en]
Strategic sustainable development, social sustainability, systems approach, backcasting, sustainability principles
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:bth-10464ISBN: 978-91-7295-307-9OAI: diva2:852857
Public defence
2015-09-07, G340, Campus Gräsvik, Karlskrona, 10:56 (English)
Available from: 2015-09-10 Created: 2015-08-03 Last updated: 2015-09-17Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Exploring the possibility of a systematic and generic approach to social sustainability
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Exploring the possibility of a systematic and generic approach to social sustainability
2010 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, Vol. 18, no 10-11, 1107-1112 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

There is a growing need to understand how existing concepts and tools for sustainability relate to each other and to a robust, trans-disciplinary systems perspective for sustainability. As a response, a group of scientists, including some of the authors, have developed a framework based on backcasting from sustainability principles over the last 20 years – the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD), also known as The Natural Step Framework. The intent of this study is to scrutinize the existing framework as regards its social dimension. The study demonstrates dichotomies and lack of robustness and proposes a way forward to make the social dimension of the FSSD more cohesive as well as operational.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2010
Sustainability principles, Social sustainability, Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development, The Natural Step Framework, System analysis
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:bth-7792 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.02.024 (DOI)000278173000020 () (Local ID) (Archive number) (OAI)
Reprint submitted to Journal of Cleaner Production. Missimer, M., et al., Exploring the possibility of a systematic and generic approach to social sustainability, J Clean Prod (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.02.024Available from: 2012-09-18 Created: 2010-06-26 Last updated: 2015-09-10Bibliographically approved

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