Social sustainability as commodity? - investigating private companies contribution to urban restructuring in Sweden
Paper in proceedings, 2015
Creating social sustainability might prove to be the most troublesome of three in a broad societal effort for economic, environmental and social sustainability. Also globally international organisations and nation states are faced with a grave series of social problems, inequality, unemployment, poverty to mention a few. A the same time however it is clear that overnational and public efforts wont suffice, at least for two main reasons: the broad and multidimensional character of the task and the present weakness of public authorities due to neoliberal reduction of their resources.
Urban development is a particular case in point of these challenges. The western cities in welfare states struggle to realise social sustainability and broad public private alliances is an often used tool. In such contexts building companies, such as architects, engineering companies and building contractors play a central role.
Recently the three largest Swedish contractors have advertised social sustainability as a new competence in their social housing portfolios. They have created organisational functions related to the idea and integrated it in their strategies. Their presentation includes terms such as: attractive, safe and fair areas; social responsibility; consultation and involvement of the residents; as well as new forms of partnership and financing. In doing so, these companies have stepped aside of their traditional contractors roles as providers of technical and environmental friendly new build and renovation. This development of the contractors’ business towards societal issues brings new challenges. Based on a case study including interviews, workshops, grey publications and advertising material, we analyse how one of these companies has tried to introduce social sustainability in its organisation and why it has failed to do so. We draw on hybrid organisation and sustainable leadership approaches, in particular the concept of “ambivalent supplication” as the moment when a company is willing to engage in a sustainable process but at the same time not quite ready to leave business as usual. The results underline the following issues: the competing strategic priorities, the complexity of implementing strategy across various business functions, the lack of recognition from the financial markets, the too weak pull by the public clients and the differing definitions of sustainability across occupational cultures.