What could be skill-sets for teaching in sustainability?

As many definitions exist on sustainability, as little clarity there is what it seems to constitue. We could ask “What does it mean to be human these days? And how does being human relate to the environments we live in?” I mention environments, because environments may perceivingly differ between the ecological environments and also the man-build environments; the cities we live in, the streets we walk along, the places we sleep at, the interestes we engage in.

The man-build environment, the natural one and their relation

We are part of the natural world. We survive because we breath in, exhale, eat, sleep. All of that would not be possible if it wasn’t for the natural world “the services ecosystems” provide. They are not seperate, they are part of us. Yet, so often we tend to forget that, because we no longer live in the environments that provide these services. We lose touch to these “natural systems”. They become part of movie scenarios, pictures of holiday destinations, images. They seem no longer as real or accessible, because how we spend the majority of our days “behind computers, behind walls, in meeting rooms” feels more real. It feels real, because it is real to us.

Suddenly, what matters is how we interact with other people at the office or at home. How we are annoyed by rules and regulations to comply to, how we have to deliver on a specific tasks in a specific quality so that we are satisfying to work with and for, so that after all, we can pay for the things we need, like, dislike, appereciate, don’t want, have to, are required to, we desire and want. Being human turns “organizational”, moves away from being, but rather shifts towards the notion of being efficient, “survival” (of the fittest). <Humans on top of the world>.

Yet, humans are not <on top of the world> they are part of the world, but alter it. [War, Deforestation, Eutrophication, other alterations]. Viewing it as a seperate thing, while it is increasingly connected [What structures exist, how culture influences, how systems keep us locked in, why we do what we do, why we don’t do what we do, how we are connected, yet so disconnected, how we fail and succceed, what symbols govern us, our way of being, doing, thinking]. Because these topics are so interconnected, there is no “one best way” of solving it, but multiplicity in the range of skill-sets needed to do so.

How can skill-sets for sustainability promote multiplicity?

  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 that might overlap, realities don’t, realities that are worth challenging, 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.

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, for that reactions have validity. 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, becuause 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, becauase 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 to do so. However, 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 assessing them into good or bad, beautiful or ugly, this or that. Why would that matter? We tend to categorize so much, that what we might perceive as an ideal , an ideal to an behavior, no longer is an ideal, because someone else might not think so. By rating we categorize and when we categorize we turn an blind eye into what is. A blind eye into what makes humans humans and based on that may miss out a fantastic buisness challenge (the fact that people may not want to care for their shoes, or return furniture because they are lazy); lazy as in being okay “a harsh reality of todays” world, so how to build a business models that takes into account the “lazy-factor”?

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

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