Opinion by Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou | Accomplishing sustainability requires changing ourselves

Taking action for social change requires taking action for personal change. Is that true? In what ways can universities promote taking action towards the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), on both the societal and the personal level?

Sustainability is a crucial issue in our modern world. The United Nation’s Agenda 2030 is about accomplishing a world with zero inequalities (poverty, education, sanitation, sexual), no environmental pollution, respect for nature, and  international cooperation. The accomplishment of the SDGs does not only depend on good governance, it depends on the personal efforts of each one of us. Big global changes can only come as a result of small individual changes in our daily lives. Universities can have a big impact by promoting sustainable values and ideas to young people. In order to improve the community we should start with ourselves. The first step is to clarify why each of us should realise that we have to make the change. The accomplishment of the SDGs requires education, information and research. For people with no access to these three basic values, it is almost impossible to realise the importance of the SDGs. However, even for those who might have that access, they probably will not give the attention needed either because they do not consider it that important, or because their environment (family, work, fellow students) will not be interested in these issues, so they will not pay attention either. I believe that each of us should pay attention to the concept of sustainability, do research, become more active and sensitive and incorporate the goals of sustainability in our everyday life. This way, we can provide great examples for others to follow, especially in our close environment. As a result, in order to motivate the society to act towards the accomplishment of the SDGs, it is important to realise and incorporate them in our everyday life.. The question is how to achieve this.

A personal story will probably give the answer in the previous question. As president of the volunteering team of the Agricultural University of Athens, I was always thinking that the goal of our team is to sensitize and motivate young people in order to become active members of the university community, and the society. However, I never heard anything about sustainability, until I participated in a one-day conference concerning the accomplishment of the Agenda 2030 in Greece.. Since that day, I started searching for more information, that could help me in self-development and self-motivation. After a few weeks, I started to be even more active on sustainability issues, by incorporating sustainability in my daily life. For example, I use less plastic and no straws, I always have with me a reusable coffee cup and bottle of water, I take part in cleaning beaches, etc. That was when I realised that a volunteering team should get involved more actively in the accomplishment of the Agenda 2030, as their target is quite similar: improve the society we live in. What happen next? We are currently organising a summer school which aims to promote a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of life and at the same time we are creating monthly challenges for the students in order to incorporate the SDGs in their daily life. That is proof that every big collective change, can come only from small individual changes.

How can universities encourage students to take action towards a more sustainable lifestyle and accomplishing the SDGs? Firstly, the existing educational system should become more experiential and incorporate policies that students have proposed as more interesting. The more actively the students participate in the courses, for example by doing their own research, by taking practical part etc, the more efficient the education will be. Education is one of the main factors that influences, encourages, informs and alarms young people of the challenges we are facing today. If higher education can encourage students more efficiently to take action towards sustainability, then more people will be aware of the problems and get actively involved in its accomplishment.

Furthermore, the academic institutions should promote student volunteering. This is a very important step, as on the one hand student volunteering is a great way to take action towards sustainability, and on the other hand it functions as the mediator between students and professors. To achieve  better promotion, universities should provide better infrastructure and economic support to volunteering teams to facilitate their activity, as well as less bureaucracy that discourages student to take part in such teams. Certainly, through the courses and the laboratories, professors can highlight the value of volunteering actions in order to achieve self and societal development. Last but not least, the most important part is that the educational system emphasises on the fundamental principles of education, such as information, acquisition of a critical and open mind, and of course doing independent research. Students should learn that education does not concern just the degree and their future job, but the shaping of active, sensitive and motivated members of the society. Once they learn it, the accomplishment of the SDGs will be a lot easier!

To conclude, in order to accomplish the goals of the “Agenda 2030” on the global level, each one of us should incorporate them in our daily lives. Academic institutions and universities are in a unique position to inform and educate young people and support them in creating change, and thus helping society to develop and improve.

 

Opinion piece by Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

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