People taking part in a consultation.

Can you help us define “Social Responsibility” and “Sustainability”?

The University is reviewing its Social Responsibility and Sustainability Strategy. Feedback has shown that people would like the strategy to set out more explicit definitions of the terms, and make it clearer how they relate to the University.

We’d like to know what you think of our draft – below. Whether you agree or disagree, the overall approach or with specific aspects, it will be really helpful if you could leave us your comments.

A socially responsible university holds itself accountable for the effect of its activities and influence on its immediate community of students and staff, wider society both near and far, and on the rest of the natural world. It recognises actions often have multiple effects, for good or ill, on different groups and different aspects of the environment. It takes account of these in planning and decision making and engages with those affected to inform its analysis. It is transparent about how different needs and impacts are balanced and how decisions are made.

Sustainability is a central consideration for social responsibility. Sustainability in this context is a desired state where all people throughout the world can flourish without compromising the potential of future generations to do so too. Many people across the world are unable to enjoy a good quality of life due to poverty, ill health, inequality and injustice while the natural environment on which we all depend continues to be significantly changed by human activity.

The way things are is the result of a complex interplay of centuries, perhaps millennia, of cultural, political, intellectual and technological developments often with unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences. Any path to sustainability will likely involve similarly significant changes. A socially responsible university takes account of its potential to help understand the current state of the world and inform developments.

How each of us understands social responsibility and sustainability, and the decisions we make in addressing them, depends on many factors such our values, beliefs and assumptions. For these reasons, social responsibility and sustainability – like democracy, equality and even love and art – are essentially contested concepts: while we may agree on working definitions, these definitions are always open to critique, challenge and revision. A socially responsible university welcomes this process, recognising this helps ensure it reflect fully on what it does and how it engages with others to inform its decisions.

In the revised Social Responsibility and Sustainability Strategy, the agreed definitions will be followed by sections setting out goals and activities relevant to different aspects of the University.

Please let us know what you think – positive or negative – in the comments below by 28th November 2014  or email Osbert.Lancaster@ed.ac.uk

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