Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

The social footprint of life in the 21st Century

This is an idea that begun to develop many years ago, I came across this blog-post for a project from a page I closed years ago when I was googling to find another old project. I just wanted to re-post it as I think access to data, mobile devices, visualization and the current trends with more global focus might make this project possible to implement in a year or so (could be done now, but I think we need to wait for the failure of Rio+10 [I don't want it to be a failure, but there is nothing transformative on the agenda for Rio and we need transformation change to address the challenges we face]. After Rio+20 I hope that people will experience a major anticlimax [everyone ignoring it is another and not very good possibility]. With a new generation is ready for new and transformative projects hopefully there will be room for some new ideas and some new clusters implementing them.

Background In a global economy with complex interactions and economic transactions it is hard to understand the consequences of different actions, both on an individual level and for companies/ governments. Most people know that certain products depend on what best can be described as slave labor, promote lifestyles that is impossible to poor people to live, that certain companies are using children and repressive regime to sell cheap products. Still it is hard to know what a better option is and especially what result certain choices will have over time.

New technology for collecting, processing and presenting data provides new opportunities to provide guidance and feed-back even in complex situations.

Given that society, groups and/or individuals want to contribute to a more equal world and make sure they contribute to/support such a development it is time to develop a tool that can measure these social consequences.  A social footprint (SFP) or social shadow indicator (SSI) could be such a tool that would help to understand what we are depending on for our lifestyle and what choices that we have that can contribute to a society that is more equal. To indicate the footprint we have in different parts of society and bring those who live in the shadows into the light.

Idea To provide an estimation and easy-to-understand graphical illustration of the "social footprint"/”social shadow” in different situations.

Defining social footprint (SFP)/ social shadow indicator (SSI) The social footprint (SFP) or social shadow indicator (SSI) is the impact of an entity (product, service, individual, companies, country) in terms of the social condition for the people required for the entity to function. More simply, it is the human resources necessary to deliver everything that is necessary for the entity. The resources do not need to be direct, a product that require people to move from their land will get this included in their SFP/SSI, not only the people involved in the actual product.

SFP/SSI is a measure for a situation that makes the people who have been involved in delivering a certain outcome visible. It can be measured in different dimensions, but must capture  what social situation the people delivering the existing situation are living under (e.g. salary; access to services like food/ clean water/ sanitation/ etc; life expectancy; perceived happiness; place on the income ladder).

SFP/SSI for a Product For a product the SFP would be measured by looking at the people who have been part of producing the specific product. The number of people and the situation they live under will then be linked to the specific product. The same way as CO2 is measured the SFP would be divided into different scopes, direct, indirect and systemic (direct would be the people involved in the  actual production, indirect would be those affected by the production and systemic would be those impacts that the production has on society, e.g educational, legal and administrative).

SFP/SSI for a Service Using SFP/SSI for services allow us to compare different social consequences of choices that we make to satisfy a specific need for a service. Flying and videoconferencing could be compared in relation to the people affected from extraction of oil and minerals needed for an airplane/airports and those affected by mining for the metals needed for the video equipment.  So the transportation/communication between A to B would be shown from its social consequences. In the same way food could be assessed from a SFP/SSI perspective where a meat based meal would include the people displaced by farming and the people affected by climate change related to the GHG emissions from meat. It could help to measure what retail stores provides and what kind of world different restaurants are contributing to.

SFP/SSI for a company Using SFP/SSI is a way to see how a company is structured. It would look at the people needed to ensure profit for the company. It would both allow a snapshot picture of the company as well as see how it contributes over time.

SFP/SSI for a Country To measure a SFP/SSI for a country allows us to see how many people, and in what situation, that are necessary for a country to provide the services. For this measure trade is obviously key, but also migrating workers and others that sometimes are close to invisible.

Static vs. Dynamic SFP/SSI A SFP/SSI can be very good to highlight the current situation. But it woudl be easy to get the wrong picture if only a static perspective was given. To include people with a bad social situation (poor, unhappy, excluded, etc) in the production, service provision, company, etc is obviously a good thing if these peope  can be brought out of their current situaition.

Possible applications In the short term the possibility to compare different services (not only similar products) might be the most interesting. To compare the social contribution by different companies over time would also be an interesting application. Possible Next Steps Two project that I hope to pursue is to develop the SFP/SSI tool and apply it to two areas: 1. A selected number of services that are important in order to achieve a low carbon economy and 2. take 50 of the top 500 companies in the world to see how they contribute to a better situation for people all over the planet.