What is social sustainabilty? And how can we ensure that services take into account social, ethical, and human rights concerns in the quest of long-term development?
The goal of social sustainability is to create a society that is just, egalitarian, diverse, inclusive, and supportive of total well-being. In the context of businesses and organisations, social sustainability refers to the integration of social, ethical, and human rights concerns into their operations and business models. It entails ethical business practises that benefit employees, communities, and society as a whole.
"Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people." United Nations, 2023.
In this context, service designers need to consider how to enhance ecological, economic and social sustainability through their work. Social sustainability is at the core of service design, in particular in times where societies are shaking and services themselves become more and more complex. But what is social sustainability and how does it relate to service design? How can we design socially sustainable services?
In our upcoming workshop Socially Sustainable Services with SDN Acc. Master Milla Mäkinen on December 4, 2023, we will dive into these questions, provide a peek into socially sustainable service design and an opportunity to reflect the role and tools of service design from the social sustainability lense.
"In service design we should stop to think, how does our service design intervention impact the lives of the employees, customers and surrounding communitees. The service design interventions can contribute ill-being, insecurity and inequality as well as well-being, security and equality. Which one are we creating?" Milla Mäkinen
Also, what are the social impacts of service touchpoints? Our trainer Milla Mäkinen emphasises a critical perspective — viewing touchpoints through the lens of social sustainability:
“The food delivery robot, while enhancing efficiency, may lead to job losses. Food delivery couriers, crucial touchpoints, can inadvertently perpetuate social inequality if limited to those in vulnerable economic positions. Eliminating the need for elderly people to carry their own shopping bags may seem convenient, but for those who can still shop independently, it removes a vital social event and an opportunity for physical activity.
So which one is, in the end, the most sustainable option thinking about it through the social impact lense?” Milla Mäkinen
Let's pause and reflect: Are our well-intentioned designs truly enhancing lives, or are we unknowingly contributing to societal imbalances? How we can analyse or at least stop for a while to think about the social impacts of what we deliver?
How can we design socially sustainable services?
These five things should be integrated into service design work!
1. Identify and Manage Impacts: Businesses need to identify and manage their impacts, both positive and negative, on people and systems. ➡️ In practice this means, we need to have a look at the business model the service we're designing is linked to. Let’s analyse what kind of wider social impacts it has: does it contribute to income equality or income inequality, for example?
2. Quality Relationships and Engagement: Maintaining quality relationships and engagement with stakeholders, including employees, partners, and local communities, is critical for social sustainability. ➡️ In practice this means, to look at the touchpoints of our customer journeys through the wellbeing lens and analyse what happens to the customers' and employees' wellbeing at each touchpoint. What about the language and visuals we use? Are they inclusive or not? So we can really bring the social sustainability "lense" to the level of our practical work too.
3. Unlock New Opportunities: Actions to achieve social sustainability can open up new markets, attract business partners, and drive innovation for new products or services. ➡️ Let’s reflect on the methods we use: Are the workshop participants representing, for example, the key people who are needed to make sure that the social impact of the service in question is positive?
4. Human Rights Focus: Human rights, including labor rights, women's empowerment, gender equality, children's rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and people with disabilities, are essential components of social sustainability. ➡️ For service designers this could mean to create a set of personas based on social sustainability that we always include in our service design processes; for example one persona of a person with disability, one elderly, one migrant persona, one child, one from a minority? Then we could use these sets of personas in each project.
5. Support Education and Health: Businesses can contribute to improving education and healthcare, which are fundamental aspects of social development.
➡️ Here too, we need to have a look at the touchpoints of our customer journeys through the wellbeing lens and analyse what happens to the customers' and employees' wellbeing at each touchpoint.
Join our upcoming course and learn more about how to apply these tips! Coming up on December 4, 2023: Socially Sustainable Services with SDN Acc. Master Milla Mäkinen.