Catching the Wave of Social Sustainability

How we do business has and continues to change. Change is our current constant. We are not going back to how we worked before. The pandemic has fuelled technological advancement, astonishing agility, and globally interconnected networks. However, infectious disease, social divide, burnout and isolation mean how we manage health and safety within our organisations has had to adjust at the same rapid rate. Between us we have had to create new adaptations, and document and communicate changes effectively within the backdrop of social justice movements and strained supply chains. We have learnt to prioritise in a manner we have not had to before.

At the heart of all this change are people. Our people stepped forward to support leaders under extraordinary conditions, embracing hybrid work models and increased use of technology. Adaptive, collaborative leadership styles kept our essential services moving and our buildings operational as we realised just how interconnected we all are. We put our people and their health first and, in the process, harnessed a new way of working whilst faced with multiple extraordinarily complex challenges to keep the wheels of industry moving.

Combined with a global skills shortage, and in response to worker needs, we can now see how social and ethical principles cannot be compromised in favour of financial and environmental considerations. Richer, larger organisations and governments understand they are going to have to invest in infrastructure and dig deep to support poorer nations, their supply chains, and themselves in the process.

Social Sustainability

This is why, and how, social sustainability is inequitably intertwined with health and safety. This is why, what we do now has never been more critical and this is why business leaders are opening boardroom doors and focusing on good governance practice.

As service providers, we can demonstrate the value we bring by supporting infrastructure and creating healthy, safe places to work and do business. This will change the perception of what we do.

Think sustainability and the focus tends to veer to the very real issues facing our planet and the environment, but sustainability and creating sustainable businesses is so much more. There must be balance between people, planet and profit for a business to thrive and be sustainable in its broadest terms. We are currently facing a sustainability crisis because of our insatiable appetite to consume stocks of natural, human and social capital. Unless we control consumption, we will continue to become more unstable in every way.

When we focus on profits, our people, communities and customers suffer. We cannot buy our way out of the global climate crisis because our financial resources are limited. Our organisations, governments and nations are an ecosystem. If we restrict one aspect it affects another.

People have the solutions we seek, so by putting their needs first, by creating psychologically and physically safe workplaces, they will, in turn, solve these complex issues.

It is time to transform our current patterns of production, operation and consumption. This can only be undertaken by considering a whole sustainability model. We need to work collaboratively and be transparent and honest about where we are now in order to be realistic about where we need to be and how to get there. This is an evolution not a revolution.

UN Sustainability Goals

The UN Sustainability Goals provide a framework which organisations of any size can use to guide their health and safety strategy, operations, and long-term success. These consist of 165 targets which span across 17 goals of which many directly impact on the issues we care about as health and safety professionals. By considering which of these goals resonate with a particular organisation and its maturity and priorities, they can benefit like many successful companies who have seen advantages in aligning their corporate strategies and policies with people focused goals.

The goals reflect human needs, human rights, our resources and pretty much everything we know is important to sustain a high quality of life. They demonstrate commitments to jointly tackle challenges of poverty, hunger, disease, premature death and climate change.

To achieve transparency organisations must sign up to create and publish an annual “Communication on Progress” (COP) to inform their stakeholders of their efforts to implement these principles. As part of this, Chief Executives are encouraged to provide an annual statement of continued support with a description of practical actions and measured outcomes against their targets.

ILO Adoption of safe & healthy work environment as a fundamental principle and right at work

This was formally announced in June 2022 and directly promotes a human-centred approach to the future of work. Governments and employers around the world will be expected to see health and safety at work as a right for all workers. By adopting a prevention first approach resources can be focused where they are most needed – raising standards for all.

Putting our People First

Work is not just a source of livelihood for workers to support themselves, their families and their communities, but also a foundation of self-worth, dignity and growth. From the starting point that work should be safe and healthy for all workers, IOSH have demonstrated that good work is not only about wages, salaries and productivity, but also in how an organisation looks after its people and its supply chains.

Investors, regulators, consumers, the media and politicians are rightly asking how organisations look after their people. There is a growing social and ethical dimension not only to choices made by consumers but also in investment decisions – how fund managers are investing capital. Organisations of all sizes and their suppliers are looking at social sustainability when choosing who they do business with.

Articulate to Advocate

Together we have it in our gift to create psychologically and physically safe workplaces ready to innovate and inspire. How we articulate this is crucial. Workplaces designed to put people first will contribute to a new world of work bringing value. These are collaborative, inclusive workspaces designed around flexible working needs where work-life balance is given a higher priority than ever before. In turn, our people will feel they can bring their whole selves to what they do and together usher a new approach to how we work across the world and with our supply chains.



Director of Hosking Associates

IOSH President

OneWISH Co-founder