Promoting Sustainability in Education

This post is part of the on-going collaboration between S&S and GreenBuzz to promote increased dialogue between sustainability practitioners, academic experts, and the general public. GreenBuzz chapters in different cities coordinate on-the-ground events for a word-of-mouth driven community of professionals engaged in sustainability, bringing sustainability leaders together to connect with each other and to discuss specific sustainability topics. S&S will publish excerpts, summaries, and discussions generated by these events in order to facilitate on-going debate and make the information presented at these events available to a world-wide audience.


 

September 2015 was a momentous occasion in the history of the United Nations. On that date, governments around the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a replacement to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This, according to Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, represented “a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms – an agenda for the planet, our common home.”

Yet despite this, many people across the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not know how they can adopt and practice sustainable measures. Sustainability Agents, a Berlin based organization, is working to change this. Speaking at the most recent Sustainability Drinks event on 27 April 2016, organized by GreenBuzz Berlin, Dr. Maren Knolle, the Managing Director of Sustainability Agents, outlined exactly how they are working to effect sustainable and meaningful changes in organizations all over the world. On the importance of the need to do this, Carolin Kruse, board member of Green Buzz Berlin, says “the way people act is based on the education they receive.”

Sustainability Agents four foundations for success include: (1) action learning, (2) the use of a top-down, bottom-up approach involving all levels of employees who engage in constructive dialogue sessions, (3) local ownership and (4) ensuring continuity so that changes are continued after the expiry of a particular project. According to their website the approach used by Sustainability Agents “effectively improves labor conditions through innovative dialogue trainings that build capacity on the factory-level to sustainably and holistically address the root causes of precarious working conditions.” Having worked across Germany, Canada and China, one area in which they have enjoyed great success is in industrial factories through bringing workers and managers together (a difficult challenge in many workplaces) to help improve working conditions. For example, in a manufacturing factory in a China, this would involve ‘low-level’ employees engaging with managers and vice versa. This process can lead to workplace challenges and issues being identified and solutions developed by the employees themselves, who have the consent of management, to resolve them.

By enabling a platform for dialogue and an atmosphere where people dare to talk and can be open, it results in a situation where, challenges and problems can be discussed and debated in a constructive manner. When all stakeholders can participate in the process of enabling changes and finding solutions to overcome problems then conflict situations can be effectively managed and future conflicts can be potentially avoided. The resolution of such challenges can also lead to improved working conditions and increased staff satisfaction, job dedication, productivity and output.

The benefits are not only ecological but also economic and social and are felt by both the workers and the managers. Commenting on why they were selected and invited to participate at the Sustainability Drinks event as well as their innovative and inclusive approach, Kruse says “their approach is unique. They actually go into the factories and work with the workers as well as with the managers directly a couple of weeks in a row and over a time of at least two years.”

Everyone has the potential to make a difference even if they have never heard of the term sustainability or the SDGs. Little actions, which often do not have to be complicated or expensive to enact, that enable or improve sustainability can result in huge benefits. Kruse, also acknowledges this, and says a key reason for them organizing regular GreenBuzz and Sustainability Drinks events in Berlin is to increase awareness about certain sustainability related topics and initiatives in Berlin, next to bringing the players together so that more optimized projects which allow a more sustainable economy can be implemented.

Often the noteworthy actions and projects implemented by individuals and organizations like Sustainability Agents, amongst many others, go largely unnoticed. Yet if the “promise by leaders to all people” that the United Nations mentions is to be met, or exceeded, such dialogues, increased exchanges of ideas and knowledge, and changed measures and approaches, are most certainly required.

Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on June 15, 2016.

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