Building Bridges to Where?

Sustainability Collaborations and the Arts of Ethnography

March 18, 2015

Nicole Peterson

I was in a group of ten or so engineers, business representatives, nonprofit workers, and a government employee, discussing whether we could develop a definition of social sustainability, which we understood as the third and neglected leg of the sustainability “stool” of environment, economics, and society. Like some other topics, it seemed that while we knew it when we saw it, we were hesitant to draft a definition or even a broad characterization. The reasons for and the degree of hesitancy varied from person to person, making the conversation even more difficult. Defining something meant limiting it, and our readings in the area warned us away from a specific delineation; we all seemed to shy away from a strict definition. Yet whether or not to characterize it was still up for debate—some in the group argued that this too would limit the scope of “social sustainability,” preventing us from engaging with those outside of this scope. Others found it a practical necessity to have some way to describe social sustainability, even if the characterization focused on its processes rather than its elements.

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