In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, better known as the Global Goals or SDGs. 17 ambitious goals that touch on all aspects of sustainability, from social, to economic, to environmental.
Debates on how to address these global goals, despite the diversity of context, end the same way. The common conclusion is the importance of education.
Make better choices
The more people understand about sustainability, the better choices they can make, thus leading to a better world for all living creatures. Society needs to start from the bottom to effectively combat the world's problems.
In this case, the bottom refers to the young generations that will become active citizens one day. Educators are the gateway to the future and therefore hold the most power in reaching the Global Goals by the year 2030.
In the dark
Despite the importance of education, many educators are in the dark when it comes to knowing these global goals even exist. Those who do know about it, are not provided sufficient resources to help engage their students in the concepts.
Sweden is the top country taking action towards the SDGs. Generally speaking, Swedes are highly educated and practice sustainable habits such as recycling and utilising renewable energy. In addition, there is a strong political push to implement strategies to reach goals.
Why is it that schools in Sweden, as well as in the US, are just starting to scratch the surface of integrating sustainability into the classroom? Especially when The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were launched three years ago.
Integrating sustainability in schools is more than providing a recycle bin in the classroom, or solar panels on the roof. Integrating sustainability is about digging deep into the reasoning behind why these goals exist and how everyone can get involved.
The Global Goals approach is backwards. Business leaders were quick to realise their company has money to lose or gain in this endeavour. Time and resources have been poured into this movement, leaving the education systems left to fend for themselves.
Starting the movement of sustainability at the economic level have led to the SDGs receiving attention for the wrong reasons. Generally speaking, leaders in our economy today lack the depth in both understanding and empathy. This shallow understanding leads to an unsustainable change.
Unsustainable change happens when companies or individuals do things because they have to, are told to, or it makes them look good. Greenwashing is a good example of this. Sustainable change involves passion and understanding for the reason behind the change.
On a positive note, the enforcement of new sustainable policies leads to small changes and increased public awareness, but businesses are not embracing the opportunity to change for the better.
For example, a big-name chocolate company feeds off the positive publicity brought by Goal 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. This is due to their chocolate being wrapped in recycled paper instead of plastic. The advertising of Goal 12 makes their product image look appealing to consumers and auditors, however, there is a much bigger issue lurking in the background.
If you take a deep look at their value chain, child slavery is endorsed to save on the cost of production. Instead of addressing Goal 12, they should be addressing Goal 1, No Poverty. They should cut their ties to slavery and be creative in alternative chocolate production.
Unfortunately, when company leaders are being held accountable to change, the cheapest and fastest route is often picked, and everything else is swept under the rug.
Education is key
It is not too late to reverse the approach on the SDGs in our society. There can, and should, be a collaboration between businesses and schools. If enterprises collaborate and flood local education systems with time, resources, and funding, the world of education will finally be at the core of change.
Many may ask, “what is the return on investment for the company?” The answer is simple. Companies that invest in the future and are ready to provide them with a work environment that encourages creativity and positive change will be the most innovative and successful businesses in the world.
Money is tight in education and likely always will be, unfortunately. Since the push for the Global Goals is already happening at the political and economic level, why not involve partnerships with schools to help them as well?
Once company leaders finally realise how education contributes to the value of their company, they become one step closer to being stronger from the inside out. The opportunities exist to connect with schools, but this type of effort is so new and innovative that companies have simply not taken the leap.
Until then, educators are in a position of trying to understand the SDGs and how to implement them in the learning environment with very few financial, human, and tangible resources. It is slow and tedious.
Resources for teachers
In addition to the lack of funding and support for education, it is an unfortunate fact that teachers today are still unaware of this extremely important initiative. Take A.C.T.I.O.N. is an example of a resource that will support educators and bridge the gap between the SDGs and future citizens, but more support is needed.
Businesses can and need to create partnerships with local education systems and provide much-needed support. It is not too late for companies to make the ultimate investment, and tackle the SDGs from the bottom up.
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