27 April 2018

Social Environment

Author/Compiled by
Leonellha Barreto Dillon (seecon international gmbh)

The social forces of the environment include the demographic characteristics of the population and its values. Especially for business in water management and sanitation, culture plays an important role when assigning the value and the potential demand to products and services (read about water sanitation and culture). Culture is considered as a system of shared values, beliefs, behaviour and symbols that the members of society groups use to interact with their social surrounding. Therefore, it is of great importance to understand the way your market will perceive your product, and whether it will fulfil their needs, according to their own set of values. This might be a critical factor affecting the profitability of your business.

Furthermore, you should also be aware of the way business is carried out in a particular place, particularly because the understanding of ethics in business varies from country to country, and what might be bribery for you could be a normal practice for others (read about water corruption). The level of education is also a key factor that you should take into account when starting up a service delivery business in water and sanitation. As a SSWM entrepreneur, probably working at the international level, you might need to have various teams working in different countries at project sites. When local personnel and labour costs are low, you might need to monitor closely the development of the projects, as the understanding of quality, accuracy, safety at the workplace, monitoring and maintenance, customer satisfaction, among many others, might be different to yours. And this can cost you money, which you need to budget when making the offer for your services.

Even more interesting than ancestral differences among cultures and societies is the way societies are changing nowadays. The changing demographic factors that you should keep an eye on are: population growth rates, graying of the population, changing of the population distribution, and the size of households. For instance, there is a growing trend of high-middle class population shifting to remote suburbs and small towns. Also, many families have a second “weekend” home in remote areas such as beaches, mountains and valleys. Normally, these areas do not have yet a water and sanitation system in place, which gives SSWM entrepreneurs multiple business opportunities. Moreover, we are witnessing a worldwide “eco”-movement toward healthful products and lifestyles. The world is becoming more aware of the impact of our actions on our natural environment, and humanity now feels the need to doing something about it (read more about awareness raising tools). This offers a great opportunity to SSWM entrepreneurs for marketing strategies, especially when creating their unique selling proposition, as offering products and services which give the opportunity to their customers to be environmental conscious and social responsible.

Browse through the readings below to give yourself an introduction to the topic water-sanitation-society. To get more information regarding basics on population trends and characteristics you should review data from periodic publications or statistics from the Census Bureau and other federal, state, and local governmental agencies. The United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development publish periodic reports detailing international developments in this area.

Further Readings

Doing Environmental Scanning

This guide provides you with an overview of doing environmental scanning in your organisation. The aim is to allow you to build an understanding of the environmental scanning process and what is involved.

CONWAY, M. (2009): Doing Environmental Scanning. An Overview Guide. Hotham Hill, Australia: Thinking Futures URL [Accessed: 22.08.2012]

Environmental scanning

This web article contains a thorough list of references regarding environmental scanning, as well as concepts and theories developed in the last decades. It also contains an interesting analysis of the external environment of Higher Education, which could be used for those planning starting up a business in the training sector of water and sanitation.

MORRISON, J.L. (1992): Environmental scanning. In: WHITELY, M.A. ; PORTER, J.D. ; FENSKE, R.H. (1992): A primer for new institutional researchers. Tallahassee, Florida: 86-99. URL [Accessed: 22.08.2012]

Sanitation as if it really matters: Taking toilets out of the (water) closet and into the loop

This nine-page publication focuses on some of the social-cultural aspects of ecological sanitation promotion, such as the common assumptions and misconceptions related to cultural barriers and taboos, particularly in terms of talking about sanitation practices. It looks at how attitudes change and why “talking toilets” is important.

SAWYER, R. (2003): Sanitation as if it really matters: Taking toilets out of the (water) closet and into the loop. Tepoztlan: SARAR

Water and Cultural Diversity. Proceedings of the Theme

Subjects elaborated in this report with various contributions: translating the cultural dimensions of water into action; water management and cultural heritage; indigenous worldviews and spirituality; community life and water management; indigenous water vision and rights – a new perspective for better water management. Includes contributions from experts, practitioners, indigenous peoples and the general public from various disciplines and knowledge systems.

UNESCO (2006): Water and Cultural Diversity. Proceedings of the Theme. Kyoto: Third World Water Forum
Case Studies

Norms and Attitudes towards Ecosan and other Sanitation Systems

This desk study gives insight how people perceive and understand ecosan and other sanitation systems. It is the result of a cooperation between six experts working with ecosan, analysing the norms and attitudes in their country(Ethiopia, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sweden). Emphasis is put on individual values and societal norms in urban areas of countries with different socio-economic status and varying ethnic backgrounds.

DRANGERT, J.O. (2004): Norms and Attitudes towards Ecosan and other Sanitation Systems . (= EcoSanRes paper ). Stockholm: SEI URL [Accessed: 18.12.2012]

Towards Total Sanitation. Socio-cultural barriers and triggers tot total sanitation in West Africa

This report documents the results of studies on open defecation in rural communities and the cultural values that reinforce its practices carried out by WaterAid in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria. In these countries, the practice of open defecation is surrounded by cultural taboos and beliefs. Because some communities where Water Aid works are particularly resistant to abandoning open defecation, a series of in-country studies have been carried out to identify the socio-cultural barriers specific to communities in the region.

WATERAID (2009): Towards Total Sanitation. Socio-cultural barriers and triggers tot total sanitation in West Africa.
Training Material

M4-2: Socio-Cultural Aspects of Ecological Sanitation

This presentation is adapted from the Ecosan Curriculum 2.2. The ecosan curriculum was created in order to compile the large amount of information in a structured and comprehensive way. This is a summary about socio-cultural and religious aspects of sanitation.

WARNER, W. HEEB, J. JENSSEN, P. GNANAKAN, K. CONRADIN, K. (2008): M4-2: Socio-Cultural Aspects of Ecological Sanitation. PDF-Presentation. Aarau: seecon URL [Accessed: 02.10.2012]

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