Sustainability. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s one of the biggest buzzwords in today’s society. But it shouldn’t just be a buzzword, it should be a movement driven by individuals, organisations, governments and charities. There has been plenty written and presented about why sustainability is important - a plethora of resources can be found at the click of a button. So instead, let’s focus on what needs to be done to educate the workforce of today and tomorrow, and embed sustainable thinking into all corners of life.
Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.
- David Attenborough
Let’s take it back to basics
Sustainability is a term often misunderstood. Many see it as reducing their carbon footprint and protecting the environment, but it is much more than that. The verb ‘to sustain’, is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “to cause or allow something to continue for a period of time”, or “to keep alive”.
Sustainability can therefore mean different things to different people. It is not just applicable to certain sectors, it is relevant to all subject areas, across all aspects of our day-to-day lives. Broadly speaking, it can cover the economy, society, and the environment, focusing on what can be done to sustain the world that we live in for the future.
In 2014, UNESCO defined Education for Sustainable Development as: "… allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future. A year later, the United Nations identified 17 sustainable goals to work towards. Goal 4 is Quality Education, an area which cuts across all industries and organisations.
The application of education
In my view, everything comes back to education. Educating future generations. Education for all. This is where Pearson comes in; as a global learning organisation we have the power, the responsibility, and the intention to make change.
Traditionally, education has been viewed as something that older and wiser individuals impart on the youth of society. Yet we have seen a pivotal change with the eruption of the digital age; teenagers are teaching, and inspiring, older generations through online channels.
Sustainability is often seen as a movement being driven by Millennials and Generation Z (think Greta Thunberg), but it’s also something campaigned for by those much older (think David Attenborough), highlighting the need to impact all generations.
Not only is sustainable development rapidly expanding as a discipline, but it is also evolving digitally, all the time. New, innovative technology is enabling us to achieve more. You only had to watch the London 2021 Earthshot Prize Ceremony to see a handful of the inspiring solutions that are being created around the world.
We need to think of sustainability as the next big organisational transformation.
The employability skill of the future
Providing learners with the skills they need for the workforce is a key priority at Pearson. And what is sustainability, if not a key workplace need? The simple fact is that sustainability is here to stay, and it therefore needs to be embedded in the agendas of individuals, organisations, governments. You may not see it now, but sustainability can be considered in every aspect of your life.
Not only is it about providing students with the skills to be able to think about green solutions to protect the planet, but it’s also about opening up access to enable individuals the opportunity to learn – in a more sustainable way, of course.
So how do we go about educating everyone about how they can play their part? The most important message is to raise awareness of how we can protect our people, our planet and our societies. Whilst there are new courses and qualifications being developed in this area all the time, as with all learning, it’s important to understand the skills that they will bring you, and how you can then use those to influence others.
Earlier this year, we announced the Pearson Sustainable Business Plan, and since then, we’ve been working hard to understand what more we can do to align to these needs. There is some great work happening, and I’ve met individuals across the organisation who are incredibly passionate about this area; it’s amazing to see how that interest can be applied to our everyday work.
The more I read about sustainability, the more it influences my day-to-day choices: what I eat, how I travel, what I buy. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.” I urge anybody reading this to take note, do your own research and drive change.