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Taking Social Sustainability to the Sea: Strengthening the Social Pillar in Marine Spatial Planning

Funding Programme:

Funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Funding Programme:

Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies


Completion Year:

Contact Person(s):

Fred Saunders

Södertörn University (PROJECT COORDINATOR), Sweden (fred[dot]saunders[at]sh[dot]se)

Implementation Period:
Specific Funding Programme:

Funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies


4.706.086 SEK (€443.212)

About the Project:

What could social sustainability look like in MSP? This broad question is the central concern of this project. In seeking to respond to this emerging issue in MSP we will explore what and how social values relate to MSP, and how these, in turn, are associated with the marine environment, marine uses and activities, and marine planning both as an institution and practice. This means that first we will try map what values and associated concepts should be included in the social sustainability pillar of MSP and then build a conceptual framework to examine social sustainability in MSP practice in Germany, Latvia and Poland.  Such a framework should respond to what the critics of MSP see as current shortfalls, but also encompass both procedural and substantive aspects and be malleable enough to have analytical and practical relevance across different MSP contexts. Despite some overarching sustainability objectives (such as the SDGs), countries are likely to interpret sustainability in different ways and are also likely to use MSP in different ways to contribute towards the social in sustainability goals.

At this formative stage of the project, our conception of social sustainability in MSP concentrates on two main aspects (see Figure 1.). First, we consider social sustainability in terms of the outcomes of the MSP process, i.e. the benefits a socially sustainable marine plan can deliver to society, including how it contributes to: equity (fair distribution of welfare, opportunities and goods), environmental justice (e.g., protection from effects from marine developments/pollution) and social cohesion (building social networks and solidarity). The project thus focuses on analysing MSP as a means of guaranteeing human, economic and social rights and how these contribute to broader notions of human-wellbeing. In this context, this project will also consider how social sustainability as a multifaceted ambition can be more visibly integrated into the MSP process, including how it interacts with the other sustainability dimensions of MSP outcomes. Second, we relate social sustainability to the understanding of MSP as a socio-political process. Rather than focusing on the benefits of a sustainable MSP plan, we focus on the socio-political process of marine spatial planning.   Linked to issues such as power, democracy and participation, a sustainable MSP process could make an important contribution in providing a platform for engagement that provides opportunities for the inclusion of different types of knowledge and deliberative decision-making.

Through its focus on social sustainability in MSP, the project hopes to make important contributions to sustainability research and MSP practice in the Baltic Sea Region and beyond. We aim to generate insights on how  MSP as a governance arrangement can deliver the SDGs, including those referring to human well-being, sustainable communities and reduced inequalities. At the practical level, the project will also contribute to the development of MSP as a sustainable spatial management process. Last, the project will contribute to the academic debate by bringing together various bodies of knowledge that have not yet been linked as part of a comprehensive conceptual framework.

Project partners

  • Södertörn University (PROJECT COORDINATOR), Sweden


  • Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology (LHEI). Latvia
  • Maritime Institute in Gdańsk, Poland


Project Reference Group

  • Queens University, UK
  • Cardiff University, UK
  • Planning Department at the Ministry for Energy, Infrastructure and Digitalisation of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
  • Massey Univ., NZ
  • Univ. of Azores, Portugal
  • Wageningen Univ., The Netherlands