Why every graduating student should understand systems thinking, sustainability and the sustainable development goals


Progress Namibia - Why every graduating student should understand systems thinking, sustainability and the sustainable development goals
12 December 2016

Recently, I have been in many discussions about how to mainstream sustainability and the sustainable development goals into university curriculum frameworks. After doing some research and speaking to a whole bunch of very smart people heading up faculties all over the world, it has become clear to me that even us, as sustainability practitioners and advocates, have fallen into the same trap as everyone else when it comes to education. We develop experts in sustainability and systems thinking, just like we develop experts in economics, ecology, health, architecture, law, and every other profession out there.

However, if we take changing the status quo towards a sustainable human society that understands that the Earth is one inter-connected system seriously, we need to churn out professionals from all fields who understand how systems work, how sustainability works, and how their profession can contribute to it. In fact, we need to all understand our operating and living space, the space that provides us with everything we need to survive, grow, develop and thrive. Last year we decided, as a global community, to change the world into a place where we can all thrive. And we put a deadline on it. The year 2030.

We all signed on to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are not perfect. But they sure are a huge step towards prosperity for all. Seeing as we all signed on to them, we all need to make some contribution, within our (vast) individual and collective agency, towards them. We have goals that focus on building resilient infrastructure and inclusive cities for people, and our engineers, architects and city planners will have to be qualified to do this. We need to improve our health system from the profit chase to the wellbeing and health chase, and our health practitioners will have to learn to do this. I could mention more. If such professionals do not understand systems thinking, they will always be trained only to solve problems through symptomatic relief. I wonder sometimes whether systems thinking understanding for all has not the potential to actually be the glue that would close the gaps in understanding and willingness to work together.

Image Credit: Christopher Chase, Creative by Nature

'People normaly cut reality into compartments, and so are able to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one's perception of reality.'
Thich Nhat Hanh

'Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.'
Albert Einstein