Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

Time for corporations to tackle social sustainability

Published on September 8, 2011

I’ll admit it – I’m a social animal.

It’s true that I host the occasional dance party. But I also have the educational credentials to back me up — Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Social Work from the University of British Columbia.

In fact, I have committed my career to a form of “social work”, to system change and to improving conditions for people and communities.

In the first part of my career I worked on social service delivery by government and non-profits in such areas as affordable housing, job creation, and community, child and family development.

Then, as a consultant, I began to focus on how corporations could contribute to social sustainability and how to harvest the power of the market to contribute to community well-being.

In the early days I found most of the demand was for environmental strategy, particularly climate change. At that time, many organizations didn’t quite “get” social sustainability. But now as environmental considerations are becoming more commonplace (thank goodness), organizations are beginning to tackle social sustainability.

That’s why I was pleased to work with project lead, Susan Todd, of Solstice Sustainability Works, to provide advice, facilitation and strategic support to the City of Burnaby for the development of their Social Sustainability Strategy. The Strategy was approved by City Council in July 2011.

This project offers many lessons to other public- or private-sector initiatives that focus on social sustainability. For instance, these are Burnaby’s goals:

  • community inclusion
  •  community livability
  •  community resilience

The city’s strategic priorities include:

  •  meeting basic needs
  •  celebrating diversity and culture
  •  getting involved
  •  learning for life
  •  enhancing neighbourhoods
  •  getting around
  •  protecting our community

These goals and priorities could apply to many communities and be relevant to many corporations that are interested in contributing to the quality of community life.

These are some of the strategy’s initiatives that particularly intrigue me:

  •  Support an adequate wage standard for City staff and contractors. If deemed feasible work with the Burnaby Board of Trade to investigate how such a standard might be advanced among other employers.
  •  Consider on-going mandatory diversity training for all City staff. Consider opening opportunities to others, as appropriate. Consider becoming a “disability confident” organization which understands how disability affects all aspects of the City’s operations, creates a culture of inclusion and removes barriers for people with visible and invisible disabilities, makes adjustments to enable individuals to contribute and participate as employees, patrons and suppliers.
  •  Review the range of opportunities for engaging community members in local environmental stewardship.
  •  Consider researching emergent thinking and existing models about how to foster robust community engagement and participation.

I could go on, but basically many of the initiatives included in Burnaby’s social strategy could be adopted and implemented by a private-sector organization – better yet, in partnership with a local or regional government.

Local governments and private businesses have much in common when it comes to social, economic and environmental sustainability. Burnaby’s Social Sustainability Strategy is worth a look.

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