Social sustainability toolkit

The missing link in sustainable design

Sustainable design relies on balancing three interdependent aspects - environmental, economic and social. Developments should address broader concerns than just environmental issues but typically many focus on environmental performance such as energy efficiency and neglect aspects that relate to how a building or development is used. This means that designs can fail to respond carefully enough to how they will be used. The result is often costly retrofits and unnecessary compromises in comfort and usability.

We developed the Social Sustainability Toolkit to help designers and developers integrate the social aspects in all stages of planning, design and build. The result is a development that is comfortable and appealing for all potential users, regardless of age and disabiity. It is free to download and use (see below).

The toolkit was developed by Sensory Trust and Eden Project and piloted in South West UK on capital projects supported by European funding.

Eden Project's Core building, a public education centreAcoustic detail in Eden Project's education building, the Core

The toolkit helped integrate usability criteria throughout the design and build. (Right) It also helped focus attention on acoustics and sound-absorbing materials were installed in the ceiling throughout the open spaces to ensure good sound quality.

Using the social sustainability toolkit

The toolkit is aimed at built environment professionals and all those involved in the commissioning, planning, design, build and evaluation of capital projects. It integrates inclusive design in all stages of the design and construction process, from initial plans through to completion and use. It aims to make a complex set of requirements as straightforward as possible. Working through it will help fulfil statutory obligations and ensure a high quality, fully accessible project.

The Toolkit uses tools that dovetail with existing planning and design processes, for example as part of applications for planning and building control approval. It also includes a crib list to highlight key issues and give a means of recording decisions throughout the whole sequence from initial concept to completion and handover.

The following practices are important to ensure effective use of the toolkit:

  1. Close working between client, designers, construction and maintenance teams throughout all stages of planning, design and build.
  2. Practical training sessions with all teams to raise understanding and increase buy-in.
  3. Close liaison between architect and landscape architect to create best options for transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces.
  4. Good attention to acoustic design throughout working and social spaces.
  5. Attention to detail in fixtures and fittings.
  6. Integration of accessibility into the overall design to create a better environment for everyone.

The toolkit in action

The toolkit was used to guide the design and build of an education centre, the Core, at the Eden Project in Cornwall. It was also used with new innovation centres in Cornwall and campus buildings at the University College Falmouth. The Sensory Trust also developed the Access Chain, a tool that addresses accessibility from the user’s perspective and follows the sequence of steps involved in making a visit and use of the building or site a success – from arriving, through the experience in a place, to leaving.

The social sustainability toolkit as a training tool

The Toolkit has been enthusiastically received as a framework for training designers, planners and construction teams. The training shows how the toolkit can be used at different stages of the design and build process, and how it helps. Discussion aids like our Numbers Game help give practical context.

Download the toolkit

Download the toolkit (PDF 1.8Mb)

Download the toolkit (Word 1.7Mb)