Living the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Martin J. Ossewaarde, has an MSc in economics from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with a major in institutional economics and a minor in public administration. He designed and conducted several courses in the field of governance and development. His research interests include eco-cities and green economy. Martin established the Green Campus Movement in order to green AUCA’s culture in anticipation of the university’s move (in 2015) to its new, sustainable campus. SAGE is the proud publisher of his book Introduction to Sustainable Development.

It’s been four years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 were adopted worldwide. A quarter of the time to achieve them has already passed and still, awareness is low around the world. Good education and training for sustainable development may change that. During my own formative years at Rotterdam University in the 1980s, I was struck by the impacts of dying forests, nuclear disaster (Chernobyl), desertification, and (still in its infant stages) climate change. The planet I loved was threatened by our ignorance, mismanagement and perhaps even greed. On top of that, injustices cause the very unequal and unfair distribution of the costs and benefits of wealth creation. I began studying the issues in-depth and this led to a lifetime involvement in the field of sustainable development. Moreover, I realised early on that I needed to take responsibility for my own impacts, reducing them wherever I could in a process of continual improvement. I am still at it.

Indeed, we can all do good things for people and the planet. However, these efforts find their limit in matters that are decided by others, especially businesses and governments. Their leaders design and modify the institutions that enable or restrict our collective action people, planet and prosperity. I am speaking about laws and board decisions. Other institutions, such as traditions and social norms, grow more organically, yet they too change over time. Deliberate change takes effort, skill and lots of patience. Last but not least, technology allows certain efficiencies in the way we use resources today, but maybe improved tomorrow. Such improvements are not the result of an autonomous process but of the complex interactions of attitudes, institutions and the incentives they generate.

Why is this important for the SDGs? How shall we make decisions for inclusive, sustainable development, if our consciousness and mindset have not been impacted by integrated SDG thinking? How shall we generate the graduates needed to fill the millions of jobs that now require knowledge, attitudes, values and skills for moving towards the future we want?

My contribution to this educational task is my textbook ‘Introduction to Sustainable Development’,  published by SAGE India in April 2018. It is the fruit of a decade of lecturing in Central Asia and a lot of additional self-study. It is not a compilation of issues and their solutions. Instead, it seeks to challenge and inspire the readers to pause and think about sustainable development in relation to their roles as individuals, parents, future managers and leaders of business, government and civil society. Part One gets to the roots of unsustainable development and paints the promise of sustainability as a new direction for development. Part Two presents all relevant stakeholders and the roles they play best in the complex transition to a sustainable future. Part Three has concrete applications of sustainable development thinking to the key areas of energy, food & agriculture, urban living, and green economy. Every chapter has material from various South Asian countries.

This book may not only be relevant for dedicated courses in (sustainable) development, but also for wider courses about the interactions between agriculture, business or technology on the one hand and society on the other in this age of great global challenges

Last but not least, I hope that this book serves to enlighten environment and development professionals who need an update on their knowledge and background in areas relevant to the SDGs. Finding one’s place in the movement for our common (sustainable) future is a rewarding pursuit.

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