What is social sustainability in business?

Many businesses have adopted environmental sustainability practices in recent years, and the concept of sustainability in business is now a familiar one. Social sustainability works along the same lines as environmental sustainability, but involves the impact on people instead of on the environment.
According to the United Nations Global Compact, social sustainability in business is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people at the company, in the supply chain, and in the community where the company does business.

How can your company become more socially sustainable?

The issue of sustainability for companies today is essential, and the growing attention paid to the social aspects of a company’s strategy, in particular, is driving organizations to develop their social sustainability. 


Firstly, companies need to assess the impact of their corporate policies on the daily life of their employees. These policies should address and include the creation of adequate jobs, goods and services that help meet basic needs, while creating inclusive value chains. The respect of employees’ rights, safety, diversity, work-life balance, well-being and internal communication are all aspects that must be taken into consideration when trying to create a more equitable work environment.

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However, this alone is not sufficient. Companies today understand it is important to involve local communities, offering support in the form of information or by providing specific resources that will help them. This effort also involves choosing products that come from a supply chain that respects the rights of the employees involved in the production process. In order to achieve this, it is helpful for these separate entities to work together, creating a virtuous cycle and pooling strengths together to increase their positive impact on the community. This is what is intended by social sustainability in business today.

Giving back to the community

Any organization, regardless of its size, has the opportunity to give back to the community a part of what it has earned, by making its valuable expertise and resources available for the improvement of the daily lives of people, thereby contributing to social sustainability. In practice this can happen by hosting awareness-raising events on topics that are important for the company and the community, such as donations for those in need, volunteer opportunities for employees during their work hours or even partnerships with local administrations to build infrastructure that improves social well-being. This enables sustainable business with a positive social impact.

Prioritizing health and safety

Security and safety are the pillars at the base of any modern company and they must be constantly improved and monitored to offer employees a working environment which is free of any hazard. Some of these practices are:

  • Keeping the work areas clean
  • Providing the adequate amount of equipment and training
  • Implementing the adequate safety protocols
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Supporting a more ethical production chain

The entire production chain needs to be safeguarded from employee mistreatment, or worse, abuse. Companies need to be the ones taking the first step in this regard, changing the means by which they secure their resources and materials. This means there must be careful consideration and attention given when choosing suppliers.

Social sustainability in business: benefits and advantages

What is the importance of sustainability? Expanding the social dimension of sustainability in a company has a significant impact on all aspects of its organization, including the value of its final product or service and the general perception the consumer has about it.


Furthermore, as outlined in the UN Global Compact, which Enel joined in 2004, aiming for social sustainability helps businesses in numerous ways.


These advantages include:

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  • Employee benefits: they are more involved and engaged in the process, and, at the same time, this increases the talent the company attracts.
  • Business benefits: socially sustainable practices improve the company’s exposure and reputation, contributing to attracting new clients while consolidating existing relationships.
  • Social inclusion: increased inclusiveness, which means talent is not wasted and an overall improvement of the employment market. Thereby also improving the relationship between the company and the community.
  • Improving risk management: increased security helps to prevent workplace accidents and resource waste.

Examples of social sustainability in business

Social sustainability impacts are harder to measure than profits or reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But issues like human rights abuses or work-life balance problems are easy to identify. Here are some examples of social sustainability issues in business:
  • Human rights: companies can adopt human rights policies protecting their own workers and those at suppliers from abuse, as well as procedures to conduct human rights impact assessments and deal with violations.
  • Fair labor practices: Advancing decent work and raising the living standards of all workers across operations and supply chains require business to be vigilant about child labor, discrimination, right to unionize, and safe working conditions.
  • Education: lack of access to education is one of the main causes of poverty. Companies seeking to improve their impact on a local community can make a difference by offering professional training and education programs. 
  • Work-life balance: flexible work hours and remote working are ways to support employees as they seek to care for children and elderly parents, or pursue a career goal.
  • Childcare: some companies offer on-site childcare facilities. Unequal access to expensive childcare is a discriminatory factor in many countries. Childcare facilities make it easier for single parents to keep their jobs.
  • Healthcare: providing access to healthcare for people who may have difficulty doing so on their own is an easily measurable way to contribute to employee and/or community well-being.

What is the difference between social sustainability and inclusive sustainable development?

The difference between social sustainability and inclusive social development is that the first refers to company policies, and the second is a macroeconomic concept related to development that involves governments and policymakers.


Inclusive sustainable development is economic growth that takes social and environmental impacts into account so that wealth created from investment is shared broadly, leaving no one behind. Social inclusion happens when discriminated groups can access the institutions, resources, and opportunities necessary to improve their dignity and live a socially valued life. Inclusive growth means reducing inequalities in income and opportunities, and also promoting empowerment and equal opportunity.


Inclusive sustainable development is fundamental to achieving the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are vital to securing the long term health and safety of the planet and its human population.

The 17 SDGs are built on interlocking principles of poverty reduction, environmental protection, peace, and sustainable economic growth. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals are directly related to social inclusion principles such as gender equality, fair employment, and education. So a business that achieves inclusive sustainable development also makes progress towards a goal of reaching the SDGs.


There are a number of ways that sustainable development can reduce inequalities and increase social inclusion. One way is for policymakers to:

  • Foster inclusive urban development, managing growth and change in ways that reduce pollution
  • Protect natural resources
  • Create sustainable communities, and improve quality of life for everyone, including vulnerable people and people with disabilities.

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