Links and resources

  1. International sites
  2. Australian sites
  3. Selected definitions of social sustainability
  4. Text bibliography

1. Social sustainability resources in international research organisations

International organisations

Sustainability Web Ring

The work of the Sustainable Development Communications Network (SDCN). The most complete listing of sustainability sites on the web.

OECD Sustainable Development

The originators of the Bruntland definition are now moving to further their examination of the links between social and environmental factors and have a small Enviromental-Social Interface section for this purpose. The organisation also hosts the Round Table on Sustainable Development and has an extensive links section.

UNESCO Sustainable Development website

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Extensive material on all aspects of sustainability with particular focus on education and social justice. Various subsets detailed below.

UNESCO – Educating for Sustainability

UNESCO’s project to reorient curriculum design to include greater focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability. Includes extensive online learning materials found at Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future.


Management of Social Transformation Programme. One of the most extensive and influential international organisations on social sustainability and education.

‘MOST’ – Towards Socially Sustainable Cities

UNESCO / MOST project identifying public policies that promote socially sustainable cities.

MOST Database of Best Practice

An excellent compilation of best practice in regional social sustainability projects and a potential model for our own network. Contains a Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge section.

World Bank Group Sustainable Development

The World Bank’s vision for sustainable development includes five areas – financial, physical (infrastructure), human (health), social and natural. The Social Development website has a strong focus on community-driven development in programs aimed at poverty reduction.

Global Reporting Initiative

International organisation devoted to developing globally applicable sustainability reporting processes. Social sustainability included although no specific indicators are discussed.

Institute for Social Ecological Research

A German-based non-profit research organisation. Run a variety of research projects including Sustainability as a Concept in the Social Sciences. Their declaration on Enhancing Social Scientific Understanding of Sustainability promotes the support of United Nation’s MOST programme as critical in the integration of social science into the global sustainability agenda.

International Institute for Sustainable Development

Organisation primarily devoted to developing indicators of environmental sustainability since the Rio Summit. Has a useful Compendium of Sustainability Indicators. Also has a ‘Dashboard of Sustainability’: a free, non-commercial software that allows you to present complex relationships between economic, social and environmental issues in a highly communicative format aimed at decision makers and citizens interested in sustainable development.

Rocky Mountain Institute

Non-profit organisation designed to foster the efficient and restorative use of natural and social capital. Research is primarily conducted in the use of Natural Capitalism and Community Economic Renewal.

International Sustainability Indicators Network

Member-driven network seeking to increase the use of sustainability indicators as a means of promoting movement toward sustainability at all scales, from local neighbourhoods to the global economy. Deals with very general definitions of sustainability.



World’s first sustainability consultancy service for businesses, founded by ‘Triple Bottom Line’ inventor John Elkington in 1987. Includes a section on social performance indicators, but like other subsequent sites is primarily driven by environmental and economic concerns.

Interface Sustainability

The ‘social’ website of a worldwide fabrics manufacturer, who is implementing various social and cultural enrichment programs to improve employee satisfaction and increase the economic profitability of the company. Typical of economic-driven approach to harnessing social sustainability as a means to improve corporate image.

Sustainable Measures

American private consulting firm offering advice on company and community sustainability. Provides a large list of sample sustainability indicators, and instructions/questions that company communities can use for self-examination in order to establish their own sustainability indicators.

2. Major social sustainability resources in Australian organisations


Global Sustainability Institute at RMIT

RMIT have developed a four-part definition of sustainability, including ‘governance’ in addition to the standard components of the triple bottom line. The site contains extensive resources, including a timeline of the development of the idea of sustainability, and a wide selection of links.

Sustainability at UTS

Sustainability is one of the main research foci at UTS. Their sustainability website has sections on sustainability and the environment, business, infrastructure, technology and quality of life. The main postgraduate teaching arm is the Institute for Sustainable Futures.

Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University

Sustainability is defined using the triple bottom line. Social sustainability studies here have a strong emphasis on the relationship between society and technology. Strong postgraduate cohort.

National Centre for Sustainability

This is a relatively new amalgamation of Victorian sustainability clusters at: Swinburne University of Technology, Sunraysia Institute of TAFE, the University of Ballarat and South West Institute of TAFE.

Sustainability Studies at Curtin

Curtin University Department of Social Science runs Masters/Grad Dip/Grad Cert suite in sustainability studies, with a stated focus on social sciences and humanities. In terms of research concentrations, most at Curtin with a sustainability focus are concerned with the environment.


GETRA Sustainability

GETRA are an Australian sustainability solutions company, offering a consultancy service on sustainable social and environmental practices. Like most such organisations their primary indicator of success is profit.
'91% of consumers are likely to consciously buy from companies that can show they behave ethically.'


Social Sustainability Projects at Capital City Adelaide

A report from the SA Department of Human Services recommending a joint agreement on social sustainability between the department and Adelaide City Council. Also of note are the reports from the Adelaide Thinkers in Residence program, promoting sustainability as a key goal for Adelaide.

ACT Office of Sustainability

Contains several discussion papers on the local government framework for sustainability in policy in the ACT.

WA Government Sustainability Policy Unit (Dept of Premier and Cabinet)

WA government agency associated with Murdoch’s ISTP (see above). Well mapped action plan for sustainability in Western Australia.

WACOSS Housing and Sustainability Indicators Project

Western Australian Council of Social Services project to develop indicators for sustainable housing includes a model of social sustainability with a coherent set of indicators.


Australian National Sustainability Initiative

Canberra-based group seeking to provide a platform for multi-disciplinary approaches to sustainability issues.

3. Selected definitions of social sustainability

Socially based definitions 

‘Social Sustainability for a city is defined as development which is compatible with the harmonious evolution of civil society, fostering an environment conductive to the compatible contribution of culturally and socially diverse groups while at the same time encouraging social integration with improvements in the quality of life of all segments of the population.’
Source: UNESCO ‘MOST’ Program: Towards Socially Sustainable Cities

Generally, societies that are inclusive, cohesive, and that have accountable institutions are best able to support lasting development outcomes.
Source: World Bank Social Development Website

Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes, systems, structures and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.
Source: WACOSS model of social sustainability, p 11.

A sustainable community would be secure, healthy and equitable, with a clear sense of place.
Source: Environmental Protection Authority (2002) Towards Sustainability: Preliminary Position Statement No. 6, Environmental Protection Authority, Perth.

‘Sustainable communities foster commitment to place, promote vitality, build resilience to stress, act as stewards, and forge connections beyond the community.’
Source: Northwest Policy Center, University of Washington Graduate School of Public Affairs, Seattle, Washington, USA

‘Sustainable society – Society whose long term prospects for continuing to exist are good. Such a society would be characterized by an emphasis on preserving the environment, developing strong peaceful relationships between people and nations, and an emphasis on equitable distribution of wealth.’
Source: Coop America, Coop America Quarterly, No. 37, Summer 1995, p 46.

Environmentally based definition

‘In a sustainable community, resource consumption is balanced by resources assimilated by the ecosystem. The sustainability of a community is largely determined by the web of resources providing its food, fibre, water, and energy needs and by the ability of natural systems to process its wastes. A community is unsustainable if it consumes resources faster than they can be renewed, produces more wastes than natural systems can process or relies upon distant sources for its basic needs.’
Source: Sustainable Community Roundtable Report (South Puget Sound)

Mixed definition

‘Sustainable community development is the ability to make development choices which respect the relationship between the three "E's" – economy, ecology, and equity:

  • Economy – Economic activity should serve the common good, be self-renewing, and build local assets and self-reliance.
  • Ecology – Humans are part of nature, nature has limits, and communities are responsible for protecting and building natural assets.
  • Equity – The opportunity for full participation in all activities, benefits, and decision making of a society.’

Source: Mountain Association For Community Economic Development (MACED)

4. Selected text bibliography

This section refers to major print sources specifically related to social and ‘eco-social’ sustainability and is intended as a basic reading list. Many websites and documents available online are not referred to here as these are detailed in other sections of the website.

  • Alston, M and Cocklin, C, Community Sustainability: A Question of Capital (Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, 2002).
  • Baum et al, Community Opportunity and Vulnerability in Australia’s Cities and Towns: Characteristics, Patterns and Implications (Brisbane, AHURI/UQ Press, 1999).
  • Becker, E and Jahn, T, eds, Sustainability and the Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Integrating Environmental Considerations into Theoretical Reorientation (1999).
  • Black, A et al, Rural Communities and Rural Social Issues: Priorities for Research (Canberra: Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, 2000).
  • Borrini-Feyerabend, G and Buchan, D, Beyond Fences: Seeking Social Sustainability in Conservation (1997).
  • Cock, P, ed, Social Structures for Sustainability (Australian National University, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, 1991).
  • Coomer, J, ed, Quest for a Sustainable Society (Oxford, 1979).
  • Dobson, ANH, Fairness and Futurity (Oxford, 1999).
  • Harris, J et al, 'A survey of sustainable development: social and economic dimensions', Society and Natural Resources 15(6), July 2000, 558–560.
  • Hawkes, J, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture's Essential Role in Public Planning (Cultural Development Network in Association with Common Ground Publishing, 2001).
  • Learning Sustainability by Doing: Regional Integration by the Social Partners, 1998.
  • Polese, M and Stren, R, Social Sustainability of Cities: Diversity and the Management of Change (Toronto, 2000). 
  • Prugh, T, The Local Politics of Global Sustainability (2000).
  • Tisdell, CA, Local Communities, Conservation and Sustainability: Institutional Change, Altered Governance and Kant's social philosophy (1996).

Areas of study and research

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