Teaching sustainability

Real Impact is applying new teaching approaches to promote sustainability

Action on the Sustainable Development Goals could be boosted by combining transformative learning and management approaches to sustainability issues. Researchers at the University of Torino, Italy, demonstrated that students taught in this learning environment developed skills in leadership, design and business modelling that helped them take decisions and create actions on sustainability problems.

The Problem

The United Nations invites universities across the globe to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education across disciplines. It encourages them to introduce transformative teaching approaches that place students at the centre of learning and equip them with the skills to become leaders in sustainability. One of the challenges of developing leaders in this field is creating a learning environment that allows them to gain the wide range of skills needed to solve sustainability problems.

The Research

Researchers at the University of Turin conducted a project aimed at helping universities design a short-course on transformative learning for SDGs that would encourage students to become conscious citizens, able to take an active and proactive role in society.

They tested their approach through a two-day programme that guided participants though fundamental information about SDGs and taught them SDGs’ interlinkages and the use of well-known economic approaches. The output of the workshop was for students to design a local innovative project.

The project was led by Dr Laura Corazza, Research Fellow, at the Department of Management at the University of Turin, in collaboration with colleagues Gabriela Cavaglià, Research Valorization and Public Engagement Department, and Dario Cottafava, PhD candidate in Innovation for the Circular Economy.

The Impact

Researchers at the University of Turin identified that students need to be taught management skills, in addition to interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and critical thinking approaches in order to successful develop and deliver sustainable development projects. They found that management skills can boost the power of transformative learning and prompt learners to take decisions and create actions in their local communities.

In a follow up survey, workshop participants reported considerable improvement in stakeholder governance, leadership and public speaking skills and a satisfactory improvement in sustainable development understanding, design thinking and business modelling. A total of 75 per cent of them rated the interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity approach of the workshop as one of the most successful parts of the training.

The researchers now plan to replicate the course by engaging university management and encouraging sustainable action through institutional policy. They will also develop the workshop for the general public. Over time, researchers intend for the workshop to be integrated into current university training programmes and used as an extra-curricular transformative learning activity, whereby students can earn extra credits.

The workshop could also be proposed as a multi-stakeholder engagement activity to reinforce sustainability assessments. In addition, it could be acknowledged in universities’ sustainability reporting as an example of a participative approach in detecting, designing and addressing sustainability-related strategies.

This project was published in full in Sustainability Accounting, Management & Policy Journal: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2018-0152/full/html