Issues of sustainability are going to be the lens through which most of our students apply their education, and every field of study across a college campus should be educating students to their role of building a more sustainable future. Leading the Office of Sustainability at UT Dallas, teaching, and working with young people on sustainability, I have observed 2 challenges over and over again which have become my passion to address.
1. Sustainability can mean something different to almost everyone you talk to.
2. Students are eager to create a positive change, but need to understand how.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a wonderful tool for addressing both of these issues. With regards to the first issue - SDGs provide us the language and structure to define sustainability as a broad, trans-disciplinary, interconnected field. SDGs allow us to meet our audience where they are in their understanding of sustainability and respond with a “yes and…”. These conversations are incredibly important, as they help people understand how their talents, passions, and expertise can be applied in order to advance sustainability while also providing context regarding the breadth of the field.
Leveraging SDGs to define sustainability to your audience also promotes inclusivity. I have run across 2 issues related to inclusivity repeatedly over the years. Some people absolutely know that they have a role to play in sustainability, but I often find that this cohort minimizes the role played by other areas of expertise. Others may be passionate about sustainability but they do not see a role to play in creating solutions. SDGs address both of these issues, since I have yet to find anyone who can review the 17 SDGs and claim expertise in every area, and I have not met anyone who does not have talents, interests, or expertise related to any of the SDGs. SDGs allow for everyone to have a seat at the table and ensure that everyone’s voice will be heard and valued.
Since SDGs have given everyone a seat at the table and a voice in creating a more sustainable future, we can now start to look at the “how”. I like to lead students through an exercise where they note their top 5 SDGs along with personal actions they can take to advance these SDGs. We then reflect on how their majors and career plans align with the SDGs they’ve identified. This exercise is often a revelation for them, since it is opening their eyes to the role that they can play and how they can apply a passion to their work.
These challenges above are not just confined to college campuses, but campuses are simply a microcosm for our region. I challenge every reader of this article to review the SDGs, note your top 5 SDGs, and then consider your talents and spheres of influence. How can you and your organization become a champion for the principles put forward in the SDGs? How can you work with others to create a positive change?
RCE North Texas is lucky to have such diverse stakeholders with varied expertise and spheres of influence, all committed to advancing sustainability in North Texas. I am incredibly optimistic for the work to come as we define regional issues through SDGs and find synergies between the many people sitting at this table.
- Gary Cocke, Director of Energy Efficiency & Sustainability, UT Dallas