THE SOCIAL components of sustainability are no less important than the economic and technical ones. “Putting people first” in projects improves social organization and increases social capital.
The case for environmentally sustainable development is usually argued in economic and technical-ecological terms. As has happened in other areas, many are tempted to think that if they can “get the economics right,” everything else will fall into place. Soothing as this econo-mythical invocation may be, it is nonetheless one-sided. The social components of sustainability are no less important Indeed, failure to recognize the determinant role of the “social actors” has doomed many programs trying to induce development.
The environment is at risk not from some extraterrestrial enemies, but from human beings, including both local and distant resource users. Thus, the call for “putting people first” in policies and investment programs for inducing development, or for assistance in spontaneous development, is not a radical call: it is a realistic one. It simply means recognizing the centrality of the social actors and their institutions in sustainable development. Sustainability must be “socially constructed”—that is, arrangements of a social and economic nature must be made purposively. This is why building sustain ability must be approached as a threefold task—social, economic, and ecological—simultaneously.