10 September 2020

Social sustainability is possibly the least defined element within the sustainability debate, or at the very least often attracts a smaller amount of attention.

People's minds often automatically go to the environment, an undoubtedly important element of sustainability which is underpinned by environmental legislation and guidance. But what about the 'social' pillar?


The classic three pillar diagram of sustainable development shows that we need all three elements  to achieve the best possible outcomes for sustainable development (the area shown in the middle of the diagram above).

The UN Sustainable Development goals highlight just how important the social element is in sustainability. Amongst the UN goals are: no poverty, good health and wellbeing, gender equality and reduced inequalities to name just a few. In fact on balance there are just as many 'society based' goals in the UN sustainable development goals as environmental ones.

Social sustainability captures the systems, relationships and structures to create healthy and liveable communities. In essence it is about people and how they live their lives - the users of services which need to be put at the heart of the decision-making process, a theme throughout our Draft Transport Strategy, currently out for consultation until 6th October.

The Draft Transport Strategy has been developed to set the direction on how strategic connectivity must be planned and delivered in order to realise the economic potential of the region whilst ensuring the principles of sustainable development are followed to maximise social and environmental benefits.

For example,  the greening of travel routes will encourage walking or cycling, helping to improve both physical and mental health whilst at the same time acting as green corridors for wildlife. This shows how the social and environmental aspects of sustainability work as one. Alongside this, improving connectivity to reduce social isolation and highlighting the importance of active travel (via our travel hierarchy) are themes within the strategy.

The approach to our Integrated Sustainability Appraisal was to include an independent assessment of our strategy against people focussed themes– equality, health and safety (through an Equality Impact Assessment, Health Impact Assessment and Community Safety Assessment). This was accompanied by assessments which focussed on purely environmental themes, brought together in way which aimed to integrate the pillars of sustainability.

Who doesn't like to understand what makes society tick? On a personal level I have always enjoyed learning about people, what influences behaviour change and how we can make a change. The consultation on our Draft Transport Strategy is your opportunity to tell us what's important to you. What makes you tick? We'd love to hear your thoughts...

Abi Nichols is an EEH Project Lead