Illuminating the Invisible: How Institutions Address and Afford Social Sustainability

Ken Weidner Presenter
Assistant Professor of Management
Saint Joseph's University
Mon, 10/28: 9:15 AM  - 10:15 AM 
60-minutes presentations 
Session B 
Room: 300D - Wellbeing & Work 



Rising income inequality, compounded by the eroding purchasing power of low and minimum-wage jobs, make social sustainability a subject of increasing urgency and importance to the most vulnerable members of our campus communities. However, social sustainability is the least visible and potentially the most contentious dimension of sustainability, since examining it illuminates how an institution relates to and compensates its employees and its contractors.

This session drills down into some of the most recent results from the Living Wage Policy Study (, a five-year multi-phase research project exploring (1) the prevalence and nature and living wage policies in American higher education, and (2) the potential effects of living wage policies, including financial operating margins, bond ratings, institutional rankings/reputation, and media coverage, among others.

In this session, we'll discuss the study's findings on three critical questions:

1. How do institutions illuminate the invisible needs and issues of the most vulnerable employees in the campus community? We'll explore different methods used to raise institution-level awareness about social sustainability on college campuses.
2. How do institutions consider and adopt living wage policies or practices? We'll explore different paths to social sustainability taken by a range of institutions.
3. How do institutions afford/pay for living wage policies/practices, and how do they defend those policies during times of financial pressure?

We'll discuss both the expected and hidden costs of social sustainability, and how institutions can protect their employees and contractors.

Participants can expect an evidence-based presentation followed by a vigorous discussion of the need for and challenges of addressing social sustainability at their institution.

We'll begin with a brief overview of the Living Wage Policy Study, upon which this session is based.

The middle portion is a briefing on results from the project regarding how institutions:
1. illuminate the invisible social sustainability needs and issues;
2. consider and/or adopt living wage policies and practices; and
2. are able to afford the financial costs of enacting just employment policies and practices.

The latter portion of the session will include small group discussions, prompted to respond to the briefing and their assessment.

Audience Empowerment

Participants will receive a worksheet to assess their own institution's policies and practices.

The session will include small group discussions, with participants prompted to respond to the briefing and their institutional assessment.

The session will conclude with a debriefing of group discussions, participants' questions, and resources for use on their campuses. 

Primary Topic Area

Wellbeing & Work

Secondary Topic Areas

Campus Engagement & Culture
Diversity & Affordability

Session Level

Introductory Level

Intended Audience

Graduate Students or Above
Sustainability Staff
Undergraduate Students

Does your submission have a focus on a particular institution type? (select up to three)

Community and Technical Colleges
Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Liberal Arts Colleges
Research Universities