Sustainable Lifestyles and the Sustainable Development Goals

“This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this people-centred Agenda. We are resolved to free the human race within this generation from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet for the present and for future generations. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.” (From the preamble of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development)

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 build on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals and seek to address their unfinished business.

Awareness of the impacts human activity have on the environment and on society is not new, but integrating up-to-date, evidence-based insights on the topic into higher education curricula and practice is only slowly becoming noticeable.

Following the first global wake-up calls in the early 1970’s, the topic of minimizing the effects on nature caused by the way people live was reiterated and became the core mandate for Agenda 21 initiatives. Focus was put on the role of industry and government in improving infrastructures, enacting regulations and modifying products in order to reduce carbon emissions. Life-cycle analysis of products and dematerialization/decoupling production processes have been the main approaches, concentrating on improving energy efficiency.

SDG illustration

Eventually economists and social scientists provided additional perspectives dealing with the social consequences of unsustainable production and consumption. The role of the individual and his/her lifestyle choices has become a significant part of the discussion on how to mitigate climate change and promote the transition to a more just, sustainable future. The Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production (2000-2010) supported projects and worked to bring to the attention of educators, policy-makers and the public at large the pressing need to reflect on how we organize our daily life, socialize, share, learn and educate. In other words, rethinking our ways of living, how we buy and what we consume.

The UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) integrated education for sustainable consumption into its agenda as an essential element of ESD in 2008. By then recognition of the interrelatedness of systems and processes was growing and the discussion about sustainable lifestyles expanded to examine how unsustainable ways of living are connected to non-communicable diseases, to poverty, and to the unequal usage and distribution of resources.  The concepts of social responsibility began to incorporate consideration also for future generations and their opportunities.

At the World Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in 2012, leaders of the world agreed that awareness-raising and education about sustainable lifestyles needed to increase both in scope and quality. A 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10-YFP) was adopted and preparations are being made to launch the program on Sustainable Lifestyles and Education in order to up-scale positive initiatives already in existence and to support new, innovative ones.

“We recognize that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development.” The Future We Want, Rio+20, 2012

Parallel to the establishing of a 10-YFP UNESCO has prepared a Global Action Program as a follow-up to the UN DESD. This Program also emphasizes the urgent need for holistic, values-based, practical education which stimulates systems thinking and social learning.

Among the issues which PERL has brought to the discourse on sustainable development has been that of the need to promote empathy, social learning, moderation and sharing. To do so, a more world-embracing vision is needed from institutions of higher education -- a vision which encourages all students to be global citizens and to show in their daily lives how they contribute to a more just and sustainable world community. This is more easily said than done. PERL has encouraged the processes of social innovation and co-creating based on a cycle of social learning which involves reflection on values and practices, frank and open consultation amongst all relevant stakeholders, action, reflection on the actions taken, making adaptions, followed by a renewed cycle of consultation-action-reflection-adaption. PERL has also assisted in creating multi-stakeholder alliances and fora where new research and experience on these issues can be shared.