Universities, Colleges and the SDGs – purpose and practice

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

This is another word on the St George's House seminar, this time from regular guest contributor, Steve Martin.

24 hours at St George's House, Windsor, with a cadre of experts on sustainability would certainly not be everyone’s idea of fun!  But, it was as near as it could be, because everyone who attended this conversation on SDGs and Further and Higher Education, felt fully committed to an open and engaging exploration of the role and purpose of universities and colleges, in contributing towards their implementation...  And, most of the inputs were helpful catalysts in stimulating some wide ranging conversations and illuminating stories.

As Carlyle said “language is ... the body of thought”, and, language can influence our actions.  Like Bill, I found the contributions on the second day the most powerful and potentially the most influential.  For some years now I have encouraged those in Further and Higher education to seek inspiration and ideas from the business community and, the input from PWC validated this thinking.  Awareness of the SDGs among the business community is staggeringly high (92%) compared with universities (see earlier blog on EAUC/NUS Sustainability Survey) and the general population (33%). More importantly, businesses are taking action: 71% say they are already planning how they will respond to the SDGs and 34% say they have already agreed their plans.

Clearly, there is a lot of self interest in the so called benefits to business, especially relating to their future growth, but many are also aware of the benefits of profits from growth helping to solve social and environmental problems, like sustainable procurement coupled to poverty alleviation and decent working conditions.  In short, by changing their purpose and practice, many businesses envisage creating solutions that are scalable and socially and environmentally beneficial.

Universities should also seriously think of re-purposing to meet the well documented sustainability literacy needs of students (NUS student surveys).  Earth literate students are a critical and influential part of the solution to humanities global challenges.   But, in general, universities are far too insular for many cultural and performance related reasons.

Will this and their inertia lead to many of them becoming stranded assets, I wonder?


Steve Martin is Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester, Visiting Professor in Learning for Sustainability at the University of the West of England, President of the charity Change Agents UK, a WWF Fellow, Policy Advisor to the UK National Commission for UNESCO, and a founder member of the English Learning for Sustainability Alliance (ELSA).  He can be contacted at: esmartin@talktalk.net

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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