Updated: May 5, 2021
In recent times ‘sustainability’ has become a popular buzzword with influencers who promote eco-friendly lifestyles. From metal straws to bamboo toothbrushes, it seems an entire industry has blossomed from an environmentally conscious agenda. Likewise, awareness of the importance of economic sustainability has heightened amongst the public, with debates about the conservation of finite natural resources.
However, the third dimension of sustainability - social sustainability, receives considerably less attention and is often overlooked altogether. Yet without addressing all three of these ‘pillars’ of sustainability, it is not possible to achieve a truly sustainable society.
Social sustainability benefits us all, but particularly those in underrepresented communities, by striving to shift the balance towards equal representation. But until the stories of people in groups less represented are told, and their voices are heard, we cannot progress to a socially sustainable society.
So what’s stopping this?
The impact of social sustainability is not as easy to demonstrate outwardly at an individual level. With environmental sustainability in particular, there comes a certain virtue and ‘feel-good’ factor around the idea that you’re saving the planet.
The work of social sustainability, however, is more introspective. It involves people with societal power being honest with themselves about how their lifestyles harm marginalized communities. To reduce inequalities, we need transformative change. Those in privileged groups must be willing to climb down from their positions of comfort and acknowledge the unearned benefits they have received.
It is possible to ensure equal opportunities and reduce inequalities through the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices. To do so, we must listen, make space for others and consciously challenge our biases.
The importance of social sustainability should not be underestimated. In fact, at TNE, we believe this concept is such an essential part of our collective future that we’ve coined the term ‘socially-sustainable media’ to represent our purpose and aims.
So, what is social sustainability? Why is it necessary, and what does it mean to TNE?
According to the Western Australia Council of Social Services (WACOSS), “social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes, e.g. systems, structures and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and liveable communities.” WACOSS defines these future communities as “equitable, diverse, connected, democratic and provide a good quality of life.”
In alignment with this definition, the UN has outlined a series of sustainable development goals they aim to achieve by 2030. Of the seventeen listed, there are three that particularly resonate with the mission of TNE: gender equality, reduced inequalities by supporting the marginalized, and access to justice for all people.
The media has an impact on the way we see the world. When certain groups are underrepresented, and representations are based on bias and stereotypes, inequalities are perpetuated, thereby failing to provide the basis for a socially sustainable future. The media must give voice to all members of its diverse society, battling disinformation and polarization.
We can rebalance these representations and shape a future where all stories are valued and all identities empowered. This is one of the reasons why social sustainability is the fundamental aim of TNE.
Inspired by the zeitgeist of activists for social justice, we believe that our media should serve future generations and encourage a community where all people are free to express their authentic and diverse identities.
This vision of a better world drives our strong desire to generate positive change. To keep TNE accountable for achieving these targets, we will use the following principles, based on social sustainability goals, to shape our content and decisions:
Equity: We will provide equitable opportunities for all members of our community to tell their stories and share their ideas. To address the representation imbalance in mainstream media, we will focus on giving voice to the people who are most frequently marginalized: BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ people, those with disabilities and women.
Diversity and inclusion: All people are welcome to share their viewpoints, beliefs and values, providing these are not damaging or discriminatory and remain sensitive to the needs of all people.
Acceptance: We will promote understanding and acceptance of diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences, working to make sure that everyone knows they belong in our community.
Education: We will continue to educate ourselves and each other, recognizing that allyship is something to be practised actively every day; and we will always have things we can do better.
Accountability & responsibility: we want to hear from you! TNE welcomes constructive feedback and encourages open discussions. If something doesn’t sit right with you and you believe we can do better, let us know. We will carefully consider your points together and re-evaluate.
Positive representation: While we recognize and honour stories of the struggle, it is important to us that our writers don’t feel defined by this. We are more than the issues we face, and each person deserves to see themselves as thriving.
These guiding principles are by no means an exhaustive list. Experiences and fresh ideas will continue to shape our mission to promote social sustainability with the aim that our media will function alongside the fight for social justice and change.