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Social Sustainability At The Core: Integrating Waste Management To Empower Sustainable Communities

In the dynamic contemporary landscape, the imperative of sustainability has gained paramount importance for businesses

Apart from the conventional emphasis on preserving the environment, enterprises are now acknowledging the significance of social sustainability. This entails the identification and regulation of the effects, whether favourable or adverse, that businesses have on individuals. It encompasses the calibre of a company’s interactions and involvement with its various stakeholders, comprising employees, clientele, local communities, and the broader society.

Role of Social Sustainability

At its essence, social sustainability encompasses the idea of fostering equitable, inclusive and resilient communities. One often overlooked aspect of social sustainability is waste management. How a community manages and disposes of its waste daily can significantly impact its social fabric, environmental health, and economic resilience.

As the global population continues to grow, so does the amount of waste we produce. If this waste is not managed properly, it can lead to critical environmental problems. As per a recent study, with over 1.3 billion people, India generated an estimated 62 million tonnes in 2016 alone, which is earmarked to increase to 165 million tonnes by 2030.

Integrating Social Objectives into Business Strategy

Companies that prioritize social sustainability surpass mere adherence to legal requirements and endeavour to make a positive influence on society, thereby contributing to the creation of a fairer and more inclusive global community.

It is imperative for companies to achieve a substantial social impact and must incorporate social goals into their fundamental strategies. This entails recognizing opportunities where corporate interests intersect with societal requirements. By aligning their operations with social objectives, companies can generate mutual benefits, bolstering both their financial performance and societal well-being.

Educating the Community for Sustainable Waste Management:

We believe effective waste management hinges on community education and awareness. By informing residents about the significance of segregating waste, recycling, and adopting responsible disposal methods, we enable them to actively engage in the waste management value chain. When communities grasp the environmental and health risks linked to improper waste disposal, and the benefits of incorporating simple habits like source segregation, they are inclined to embrace sustainable practices.

Promoting community engagement in waste management efforts not only alleviates pressure on municipal services but also cultivates a feeling of responsibility and admiration for the local surroundings. Initiatives such as community-led clean-up efforts, recycling schemes, and composting projects not only aid in waste minimization but also enhance social connections and unity among residents in neighbourhoods, which is a need of the hour.

Environmental Justice and Waste Management

However, the issue of waste management goes beyond individual actions and extends to broader systemic inequalities, including environmental racism. Certain communities, often marginalized or low-income, bear a disproportionate burden of waste disposal facilities, landfills, and incinerators. This environmental injustice perpetuates health disparities and exacerbates socio-economic inequalities.

Addressing environmental racism requires not only equitable distribution of waste management infrastructure but also active engagement with affected communities. By involving residents in decision-making processes and ensuring their voices are heard, we can work towards more just and inclusive waste management practices.

How to combat the phenomenon of “environmental racism” Social sustainability extends beyond a company’s immediate operations to its supply chain, be it primary supply chains or closed-loop supply chains. Ethical supply chain management ensures fair labour practices, human rights protection, and environmental responsibility throughout the supply network. By working closely with suppliers, businesses can drive positive change and promote sustainability standards throughout their value chains.

Engaging with and supporting local communities is an essential element of social sustainability. Businesses can play a part by financing community development projects, backing local educational endeavours, or engaging in volunteer activities. Through active participation in community matters, companies establish robust connections and instigate favourable social transformations in the regions they serve.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to acknowledge the exploitation inherent in the waste management value chain. Waste pickers, scavengers, and “safari mitras” (cleanliness friends) often toil in perilous conditions with minimal legal safeguards or societal acknowledgement. Despite their indispensable role in the recycling and informal waste management sector, they frequently encounter marginalization and mistreatment.

To attain social sustainability in waste management, we must confront the systemic challenges of exploitation and inequity encountered by waste workers. This entails ensuring equitable remuneration, access to healthcare, and avenues for formal employment and skill enhancement. Recognizing the dignity of waste workers and safeguarding their rights are imperative steps toward establishing a genuinely sustainable waste management framework.

Integrating Waste Management into Community Building

Ultimately, embedding waste management within community development necessitates a comprehensive strategy that encompasses social, environmental, and economic aspects. By emphasizing education, fairness, and empowerment, we can shift waste management from being seen as a cumbersome obligation to being viewed as a chance for constructive transformation.

Community-led initiatives such as waste segregation drives, recycling cooperatives, and composting programs not only reduce environmental impact but also create jobs, enhance public health, and strengthen social cohesion. By fostering a culture of sustainability and collective responsibility, we can build resilient communities that thrive in harmony with their environment.

Bottom Line

Advancements in technology will offer vast prospects for enhancing social sustainability. Enterprises would need to leverage cutting-edge technologies like AI, blockchain, and renewable energy to devise effective solutions for addressing socio-environmental challenges. Embracing innovation enables firms to catalyze constructive transformations, boost operational effectiveness, and establish sustainable business frameworks that serve both society’s needs and financial interests.

Increased awareness of waste management coupled with support from Indian government initiatives can significantly empower a sustainable community. Additionally, more awareness campaigns and social initiatives should be laid out by both companies and the government which promotes sustainable alternatives such as the use of biodegradable products and the adoption of eco-friendly practices which further encourages communities to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics and adopt more sustainable lifestyle choices.



About the author: Abhishek Agashe, Co-founder & CEO at Elima

In Conversation With Tarun N P Varma

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