There is a fragmented approach to social sustainability in the literature, and this paper aims to contribute to a better understanding of the meanings and interpretations of that concept while reviewing and discussing the social dimension of sustainability from the perspectives of two fields: urban development as well as companies and products. The analysis identifies commonalities and differences in the understanding of the conceptualization of social sustainability and helps to identify core aspects that cross disciplinary boundaries. The paper shows that compiling a list of comprehensive aspects that is representative of social sustainability is not straightforward, as interpretations are context dependant and aspects are often closely interconnected. Differences often occur because of variations in scoping and context, or whether or not a life cycle perspective is used. Nonetheless, there seems to be an underlying common understanding of what social sustainability is, and a set of key themes (social capital, human capital and well-being) is suggested as an alternative to put more specific measures and indicators in perspective. However, context-specific information is still necessary in practical applications. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.