Primer

Social Sustainability and Architecture

How can architects and designers increase social value in the built environment?

July 9, 2018

Buildings contribute to social sustainability by providing environments that support communities in meeting their social needs. It’s generally easy to understand how the design, construction, and operation of buildings affect the environment. A building’s energy use or carbon cost, for example, are objective and quantifiable. But the building’s impact on social value is often less immediately obvious and harder to measure.

Generally speaking, social value derives from outcomes that have a positive effect on collective quality of life and relates to those things that impact livability—like health and wellness, security and resilience, equity and accessibility. Just as project teams make design decisions based on the impact on energy use or carbon cost, they can also factor impacts on social value into their decisions. At a minimum, a project should strive to do no harm to the existing community. Ideally, the project creates additional positive outcomes for the community.