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Embedding social sustainability dimensions in education

By incorporating social sustainability into learning, our students will possess the values necessary to thrive in a global marketplace.


Rakhshanda Khan

senior lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 18.01.2024

Social sustainability is one of the fundamental pillars of sustainable development. It is defined as the maintenance and improvement of the well-being of current and future generations (Chiu 2003). Social sustainability encompasses all of an organization’s activities and their impact on its employees and other stakeholders.

It is important for us educators to shape our students’ understanding of social sustainability by making it an integral part of education and learning. All students need to be equipped with the ethical principles to be able to contribute to a socially sustainable future.

I suggest five approaches for integrating the social sustainability dimensions into education.

Fostering an inclusive learning environment

Classes at Haaga-Helia consist of a diverse group of students, and thus, it is the responsibility of the educator to be mindful of the diversity. Our role as educators is to encourage diverse viewpoints and include everyone in the discussions in our classroom. Furthermore, we advocate for interactive lecturing.

Students have opinions to share, yet not everyone feels comfortable in expressing their opinions. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the educator to provide students that opportunity and establish discussion spaces where all students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, participate actively in the conversations.

Promoting ethical considerations

We integrate ethics and responsibility in all our courses at Haaga-Helia. Our job as educators is to emphasize the importance of ethics, sustainability and social responsibility in order to guide our students into making responsible decisions. Social sustainability is about taking responsibility and understanding that our actions have a profound impact on other people in our global community.

As future managers and experts, our students need the knowledge of ethical perspectives in order to be more responsible and socially conscious. Furthermore, it is important for our students to understand how sustainable and ethical choices also make business sense. Therefore, in order to become socially responsible citizens and future leaders, our job is to provide right guidance in both consideration and how to make socially responsible business decisions.

Promoting a global mindset

As future managers or employers, our students are open to, and aware of the diversity across cultures. We prepare our students for a geocentric cultural orientation to business. A global mindset helps students understand a business or a market without any preconceived notions or prejudice.

At Haaga-Helia, our students are exposed to different cultures through multicultural classrooms as well as guest speakers with diverse backgrounds. Moreover, we have established partnerships with various international universities, and their experts deliver guest lectures to our students across multiple courses. We encourage cross-cultural interactions which contribute to an understanding of diversity, social sustainability and a more expansive worldview.

Cultivating a sense of belonging

One important dimension of social sustainability is the ability to develop a sense of belonging in the broader community. Social cohesion is an important for a socially sustainable community.

We promote collaborative learning and project-based learning that encourages teamwork and builds strong student relationships. We place significant emphasis on collaborative and cooperative learning, which imparts valuable lessons to our students and cultivates a sense of belonging.

Promoting self-reflection

Students need a learning environment that allows them to critically examine their ethical values and actions in relation to social sustainability. We integrate reflective assignments in our courses that focus on social sustainability. Moreover, the classroom discussions provide students an opportunity to analyze their experiences in relation to broader societal concerns. We encourage the students to analyze real-world company cases that highlight social sustainability challenges and through open discussion students share their perspectives based on their own personal experiences.

In conclusion, educators commit to educating the dimensions of social sustainability as it is imperative for our sustainable future. By incorporating the above-mentioned approaches to education, our students can benefit enormously by becoming socially responsible individuals. They will possess the values necessary to thrive in a global marketplace.

How would you assess the effectiveness of your teaching or actions in the context of social sustainability?


Chiu, R. 2003. Social sustainability, sustainable development and housing development: The experience of Hong Kong. In R. Forrest & J. Lee (Eds.), Housing and social change: East, West perspectives (pp. 221–239). London, UK: Routledge.

Editing: Marianne Wegmüller

Picture: Haaga-Helia