Three Es, one of them is the king, in the field of sustainability (no one ever asks, wait do you mean Environmental Sustainability?) Economics is the next most important, especially when it is in the red. And little Equity, the little E that people forget.
There have long been three E’s in the study of sustainability, but one of them is studied far more thoroughly than the others: Environmental Sustainability, colloquially, is the assumed sustainability. Economics is often addressed next; no abstract theory is required for something definitively quantitative. Equity in sustainability is the E that people are likely to forget. Equity is considered a crucial component of sustainability because of increasing evidence that societies with lower levels of disparity have longer life expectancies, fewer homicide and greater economic vitality. Equity alone cannot explain the intricacies of social sustainability.
The Brundtland Definition states: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Applying the Brundtland definition to social sustainability makes us ask: What are the social needs of the present and how do they differ from the potential needs of the future? How are they met? How might they be compromised? The Brundtland definition is essentially a “do no harm” paradigm; though it is a high standard for environmental sustainability, it is too low for social sustainability. We should expect that socially sustainable architecture does not put undue constraints onto ordinary human relationships, at the very least. In theorizing social sustainability, we should aim for architecture encourages greater human interactions while responding to new conditions and contexts.
For years, the diagram for holistic sustainability was three concentric circles with economic sustainability seen as the pre-requisite for the others. Social sustainability, in this model, was at the edge of the circle, with the implication that . The diagram has evolved into three overlapping circles, suggesting that Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability are of equal importance, but are they treated that way?