The Social Sustainability Index for Small Infrastructure Projects: A Proposition

By Laura Resendez de Lozano, Leonardo Dueñas-Osorio and Jamie E. Padgett.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Implementing the triple bottom line of sustainability demands equal recognition and quantification of the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability; however, the social dimension has been addressed mostly implicitly. In particular, measurable parameters are needed to explicitly address this social dimension of sustainability for infrastructure projects. Small infrastructure projects, while difficult to assess, are particularly relevant given their aggregate social impacts and the significant amount of all projects that falls into this category. This paper proposes a definition of social sustainability and a set of indicators to assess the social sustainability of small infrastructure projects in transportation, such as typical urban bridge projects. Indicators are constructed considering the goals of social sustainability as being fair and equitable, respecting human safety, security and health, promoting community development, and cultural heritage preservation. Where applicable, these goals and associated indicators are then converted into measurable targets considering demographic and infrastructure databases available in the United States, as well as available project-specific reports and analysts assessments. The factors that weigh each indicator are also described. Included among them are intergenerational impact, the relative importance of each indicator versus other social indicators, and in relation to the goals defined, the area over which the estimated impacts spreads, the potential for political controversy, the density of population, and the estimated number of potential/real users. Alternatives to generate weights are discussed and a social sustainability index (SSI) that can be used to complement existing environmental and economic assessment instruments is proposed and applied to a small bridge infrastructure example that illustrates the quantification of social sustainability. The application of the proposed framework highlights the data and assessment needs for the SSI generation. For the case study bridge project, the overall social impacts are positive, mostly improving the social sustainability in the area where the project is located.

Keywords: Small Infrastructure, Transportation, Indicators, Social Sustainability Index

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 11, Issue 1, March 2015, pp.25-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 844.175KB).

Laura Resendez de Lozano

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA

Dr. Leonardo Dueñas-Osorio

Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA

Dr. Jamie E. Padgett

Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA