Skillsets for teaching in sustainability

Sustainability increasingly centers around CO2 including ESG reporting and the use of technology to fix “sustainability.” However, sustainability and the quest to it is often interconnected, which means that different skill sets are needed teach but also to consult for it. So what is needed? Below I listed a few things I have learned about, at times teach and include into my work.

  1. Encourage thinking globally.

So many environmental topics these days are interconnected. One pair of shoes bought in country x buys one person happinnes. It also promotes a lack of happinness, if the person who has produced these shoes inhales hazardous chemicals or if a leakage of chemicals results in environmental destruction. However, if we think, act or teach too “local” we don’t think global. We don’t learn global. We learn that sustainability is limited locally and can be as quickly solved as when we “green the street”, when streets no longer are limited to a certain region (symbolically-spoken).

2. Challange perception

We are born and raised in a certain environment (nature vs. nurture). The environment turns into our reality, but the reality may not be someone elses’ reality who was born and raised in a different environment. Conclusively, there is no “one reality” but realities might overlap, some are individual realities and some realities are worth challenging. There are also realities that are frustrating because they clash with our own views on reality. Yet we might disown them because we perceive that our “reality” is right. Why would it matter? Science for instance, can teach how to regrow trees and what reforestration structures could work well with what type of trees, but it does not replace indigenous knowledge on how to manage different forests in what type of community structures, for that structues and how people organize and disorganize, differ globally and are subject to different realities, inlcuding experiences on what works and what does not.

3. Encourage emotions

In nature, animals can be obseved that are angry, they are wild, they fight, they express and after they may be calm, lay down, breath, rest. Yet, we so often feel that being angry or other emotions find little place, because they are perceived as “bad” or “angry” reactions may be perceived “as the problem of another.” Yet, reactions tend to affect another, so they are valid and important. If we don’t highlight that we are angry, frustrated, there is little room to be. And where there is little room to be, we might miss out on uniqueness and opportunities “Hey I am angry, that I have to comply to your funding requirements because they require formal education, however I am illiterate and I have 30 years of life experiences in that field.”

4. Encourage ideas

As I wrote, there are so many realities, that there are so little ways in which “to do something best”. We don’t know, because the systems we live in become so complex that being or doing something best, may be so subject to the individiual. Because of that, we shouldn’t redirect someone from piloting an idea or pitching it, because it is different. Instead, we should encourage that, because it is different, because its’ worth exploring and if it isn’t, how can we shape ideas so that they are worth to be explored more, worth to be shaped?

5. Be supportive of failure

Trying, experimenting can likely come with failure. Failing sucks, especially if energy , time, money and hopes were put into it. Yet failure is so important to encourage, because only then we learn and only then we dare. However, by banishing or making someone feel bad for their failure “pointing out whats’ been wrong” they may not want to try again or are less likely do so. Like that we won’t find out what their second, thirdt, fourth idea might have brought in terms of innovation and their (individual) success.

6. Navigate through biases in perception

There are so many things we do and think, because of certain symbols or ideas we give to someone else “the older knows it all, the youngster doesn’t. A CEO might not want to take time for someone, because of their role. A mother probably won’t have a business idea. The professor knows it the best. “Yet these perception and their biases may be wrong. An older may know many things not and a youngster may do. A CEO is a person, and persons have time. A mother runs a baby business unpaid and knows the many flaws and opportunities that she deals with every day. The professor who is likely an expert in one discipline does not know it best, because there are a range of disciplines and ways of thinking, for that they are all right in their own ways, including your own knoweldge, perception, background. How often did you project something on someone? What bias did it hold and what resulted based on that?

7. Encourage subjectivity

Yesterday I gave a guest lecture on circular business models and their barriers. In one exercise I had my students turn to their neighbours and tell me subjectively, why they would and wouldn’t wear or use their neighbours clothes (from shirts to underwear). Reasons not to were; hygiene, lack of trust in the case of a phone, different individuality, tastes, sizes. And that is all okay! However, often we tend (particular for sustainability innovation) disregard the diversity of people and their subjectivity so that one solution tends to not fit into the diversity of people, their lifestyles.

8. Remove subjectivity

As much as I enjoy subjectivity (of my own and others) as much do I try to remove subjectivity. That is to see things as they are without a political or policy notion to it. Why would that matter? This is important to remove ideals and opinions related to behavior or innovation and even policy or law. By being subjective one could fall risk to be too supportive of an idea or ideal “a certain policy” and may fall risk to disregard the falws in it. After all, thats where science and solid scientific research comes in. Not into research? Ask different people with different expertise about one topic. You’ll get different answers that in conclusion are likely less biased or politically driven.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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