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How to Teach Sustainability

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Sustainability has evolved. It’s more than just a great idea, now it’s a commonplace fixture in society, in business, and in the way we live our lives. This is due, in part, to the increase in sustainability education, media, and awareness over the last decade. The work, however, is nowhere near close to being complete.

An enormously broad term, sustainability has been cleverly broken up into 17 areas called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), giving us the opportunity to digest the different aspects individually. Business schools around the world and their educators, using the SDGs, are able to distribute effective course materials in targeted and numbered ways, rather than just using sustainability in a broad sense. 

In order to create the leaders of tomorrow to drive sustainable change, we won’t need to reinvent the wheel, we’ll only need to tap into incredible existing resources and support ongoing research. The movement is already well underway. 

Why teach Sustainability?

The value of providing sustainability education is hard to debate. This is an immense opportunity to provide the leaders of tomorrow with the knowledge and skills to create a better world for themselves and future generations. If previous generations had experienced such education, we might not be in this global predicament. With an understanding of the relationship between people, their environment, natural resources, pollution, and more, we can create a harmonious world that benefits humans and ecosystems. 

Read on as we explore how to teach sustainability in five ways that educators and educational facilities should consider. 

Technique One: Recruit Expert Instructors

For educational facilities, like colleges, universities, businesses schools and corporate learning entities, it’s vital to hire educators with actual sustainability backgrounds to teach a subject they are knowledgeable and passionate about. Mixed in with that should be guest lecturers from local sustainability-focused businesses to provide food for thought, guidance on implementation, and information about changes to systems and processes at the very least. Water, waste, and energy are three low-hanging fruit industries that should have experts readily available to visit. Don’t stop there, because agriculture, fashion, and transport also have plenty to share on sustainability too. 

Technique Two: Business Simulations

Companies like ours are keen to design business simulations around real-world situations, and that strongly includes climate issues, environmental management, and sustainability. In our latest sustainability simulation, we can help your learners tackle the challenges of managing a business in the circular economy. Learners will get to make decisions and address issues related to:

  • designing eco-friendly products & business processes
  • reducing a business’s carbon footprint
  • greenwashing practices
  • targeting eco-conscious consumer segments

By drawing on real-world scenarios, we can better prepare learners for the realities that they will face as professionals and as changemakers.

Technique Three: Question Sustainability in all Courses

As mentioned in technique one, we should lean on the expertise of industry professionals from all kinds of sectors, and this same theory applies to courses. Regardless of whether it’s dentistry or forestry, educational facilities should seek to embed sustainability debate and practice throughout the course materials, encouraging students to apply a sustainable mindset where possible.

One day, when the next generation goes about their business, they might just ask “What impact will this have, and how can I reduce/improve that?”. This appears to be happening already, but by driving it through all courses and making students question sustainability and impact, that “one day” will arrive much sooner. 

The key takeaway here is that sustainability does not need to be taught as its own course (though this is still valuable), it can have more effective being applied everywhere but in smaller and more digestible doses that are applicable to different industries.

Technique Four: Company Visits

There’s nothing quite like feeding the empirical mind and providing a sensory experience for curious students in the form of an outing. Arrange for trips to local businesses to learn what they are doing about sustainability, how they have adapted their processes, and what effects it has had. Have the students perform interviews, take notes, and adapt the data into sustainability case studies as part of their coursework or assignments. 

As part of this exercise, be sure to prepare the students with great questions and things to look out for, whilst guiding them through best practice case studies as inspiration and frameworks for their projects.

Technique Five: Put Down the Textbooks

This might seem counterintuitive to many educational professionals, but it’s good advice. Most textbooks have no reference to SDGs and ESGs, they’re outdated, the information has since been surpassed by better practice, and the students aren’t really engaged. If you do opt to use textbooks, instead of using them as a reference point for studies, use them as a point of scrutiny, asking students for their opinions on the information given and whether they can think of better or more modern solutions.

As they say, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it…

Verdict: Sustainability is Here to Stay

Through the use of these five techniques as a kind of framework for reimagining sustainability education, we can hope to create a generation of professionals who place less focus on output, and more focus on outcomes. The last decade has seen the inception and growth of this idea, but it’s yet to become a truly global phenomenon. 

Governments, businesses, and individuals are often aware of sustainability, but acting upon it is another question. What we do know is that sustainability is not going anywhere and that we have a long learning curve ahead to solve the 17 SDGs and create the tools needed to ensure they stay solved. If we start the education process early enough, the next generation will grow up as solution-based thinkers and leverage the good work done so far.


Ready to bring sustainability concepts to life in your learning programs?

We recommend that you take a look at Circular Markstrat and when you are ready, request a free simulation demo from one of our simulation experts to see how you can add this innovative and engaging learning method to your classes today. 

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