How much does a tear weigh?

People, planet, and profit are considered the three pillars of sustainability. We can define economic and environmental sustainability, and metrics and indicators exist for both. But social sustainability relates to the quality of life... What is "quality of life"?

I wonder whether it would be possible to think of an univocal definition worldwide, accepted and understood throughout rich and developing countries, by those with large amounts money and those who have little more than values and dignity. Quality of life has different meanings according to the country where we are born, the place we live, the cultural and social environment we have breathed in since childhood. Needs are either necessary or superfluous according to our economic situation, the influence of others, the desire to be accepted, the hope of filling some void inside, or our aspirations, which often also evolve according to our social condition.

Dreams are equally distributed among the world’s population, but not the resources to fulfill them

Not everyone gets the right to an equal chance, especially not during times of crisis, when social expenses are the first to be cut, often blowing out the little flame that keeps people moving on — the sense of hope. Social sustainability does not yet have a commonly accepted definition, has no quantitative indicators and is low on the list of priorities for many governments and companies.

But …

“We are so bound together that no man can labor for himself alone. Each blow he strikes in his own behalf helps to mold the universe … the coral insect fashioning its tiny cell, joins continents to one another.”
— Idle thoughts of an idle fellow, Jerome K. Jerome

… but everything is connected.

Drought causes environmental and economic disasters, which causes migrations of people, which creates a fertile ground for abuse of those in need, in the form of corruption, human trafficking, and violation of basic human rights.

If we look at it the other way around, according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in a condition of poverty and economic crisis, where physiological needs (food and shelter), and safety needs (employment and health), are not guaranteed, there cannot be space for esteem and self-esteem, respect by others and for others, let alone concern for environmental problems and sustainability.

Economic, environmental, and social dimensions are interdependent, and letting one down has serious implications on the remaining factors.
Do we ever think of the human chain that is behind the products we buy and use, the faces of the people involved in their life cycle? According to Slavery Footprint child slaves are used for the production of many of the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the electronics we use to work and communicate, and many other objects we use daily. Do we care? Access to information has enabled us to be aware of these difficult facts of the world; we can even watch them live as they are abruptly broadcast into our living room. Yet has watching these devastating stories, available 24-hours a day, decreased their strength? It’s not easy to admit, but we have built a wall that we might call indifference, detachment, or self-protection. When things get too overwhelming we feel powerless and we often shut down.

How much does a tear weigh?

It depends. A tear of a capricious kid weighs less than the wind. The tear of a hungry kid weighs heavier than the Earth!

— Gianni Rodari

There is often a story that reaches us personally, somebody’s tear that touches our heart and triggers us to action. More people are getting involved, dedicating their time and energy to the creation of a more equal society. NGOs operating at the heart of problems, more companies committing attention and resources to the social aspects of their supply chain. It is a recent trend, which is good because we want it to grow, but being a trend also makes it weak.

Governments measure the strength of their economy by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which doesn’t include any social aspects like equity, justice, or human rights. Still, it is seen as an indicator of the standard of living, of a society’s wealth. Environmental issues, education rates, health services access, corruption, and human rights violations are all externalities, and are therefore not given the same weight as economic indicators. And yet costs borne by society as a whole are the result of activities that generate returns only to some.

A trend can fade away or become mainstream. If you are new to social involvement, change can be difficult and tiring, but a good way to face it is by setting one goal at a time, just one single action. That can be looking at the ingredients of the food you buy as a consumer, or looking at how your raw materials are produced as a businessperson.

One single action repeated over time becomes a habit, which becomes natural, which becomes culture.

Beatrice Bortolozzo

Environmental communicator and sustainability paths expert at 2B Srl

Beatrice Bortolozzo is a co-founder of 2B Srl (SimaPro partner in Italy). She specializes in sustainability paths, Social-LCA, Life Cycle Thinking and sustainability communication. She loves innovative thinking, sustainably creative experiences and has a passion for books, studying foreign languages, and cycling in the countryside.

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