Sustainable social care programme

What is sustainable development?

The Government is working to provide a social care system which enables people to retain their independence, dignity and quality of life. A sustainable development approach to social care means that personalised services are also services which connect people to their communities and to the environment in which they live. Most importantly, it means that care is both responsive to individuals’ present needs and resilient over the longer term, particularly to the effects of climate change.
Jon Rouse, Director General, Social Care, Local Goverment and Care Partnerships, Department of Health

'Sustainability' is increasingly understood to require a balance of positive social, economic and environmental outcomes. This is sometimes known as the ‘triple bottom line'. Sustainability also means having regard to future as well as present generations. Sustainability puts an emphasis on prevention and has been described by business leaders as sound risk management. In policy terms, these approaches are often combined under the term 'sustainable development'. 

Taking a sustainable development approach may sometimes seem difficult, but the benefits are deep and long-lasting. The prize is to identify 'win-win-win' opportunities, such as the wellbeing, efficiency and environmental benefits of 'green' travel planning which encourages walking and cycling instead of driving; reduces costs to the NHS and other public services; and increases productivity for businesses through reduced sickness absence.

Case study

A good example of this approach is the Go Low initiative led by Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust with support from Bristol City Council. To reduce the amount of petrol used by community health teams, the Trust purchased low-emission cars and electric bikes and encouraged team members to use them. The project has helped improve air quality and therefore health by reducing the number of ‘petro-miles’ that staff do. Service users are also benefiting from the project in unanticipated ways. Staff had become used to offering lifts to service users in their cars. But one of the striking aspects of arriving to home visits by bike is that staff can no longer do this. As a result, what was previously a dependent relationship is now one that ‘is very different… staff are visibly demonstrating a message that promotes independence’. This has encouraged some service users to start cycling too, or even to take up vocational training within the cycling industry. The Trust is working with Bristol Bike Project, a local voluntary organisation that teaches people to repair bicycles by refurbishing second-hand ones.

Go Low was so successful, it is now trading as a Community Interest Company.

Share and learn

For a comprehensive approach to sustainable development in social care, see our case study of Bristol City Council which includes work with SCIE to link sustainability and personalisation.

For evidence of the contribution of sustainable development to health and wellbeing, visit the Sustainable Development Unit’s website and the Good Corporate Citizen self-assessment model and resources.

See also SCIE's At a Glance 28 Sustainable social care: the natural environment for key messages and evidence of the benefits for health and social care of access to nature.