Sustainable development: A story of denial and fear - or hope and action?
Our emotional response to the threat of climate change might be overwhelming, but there is hope.
Stephen Woods, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett, believes when it comes to the crisis around sustainability, the mainstream conversation is rooted in fear, denial and blame. With the help of the new Sustainable Development module, he is inspiring Leeds Beckett’s business and economic students with an alternative narrative of hope, action and leadership.
“Most of the conversation around climate change focuses on the looming global disaster. But I believe this approach is actually a barrier to tackling the issue; people are overwhelmed emotionally and as a result individuals and businesses are not able to see that there really are better choices we can make.”
Stephen’s background in strategic planning, marketing, IT, and as a stockbroker, gives him the industry insight needed to give his teaching a practical focus. As a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, his teaching methods are sector-leading and he has created the Sustainable Business module to equip students with the skills to find innovative solutions make to real change.
At crisis point
Sustainable development aims to provide economic growth that meets the needs of the present without causing lasting damage for future generations.
One of the challenges is a conflicting version of events, “The subject is often approached from two different perspectives. The first is the way many other economics courses approach it – it’s all about fear, denial and blame. But there is a contrasting perspective of hope, leadership and action. For the sustainable development module, we explore these two views so students can decide for themselves.”
People often see themselves as being powerless – they think it’s up to governments or other institutions to solve the problem. But I’ve designed this module to develop their understanding that there are more solutions than it first appears.
Stephen explains, “We look at practical case studies to show how some organisations have found completely different models of operating. For example we look at Yorspace, a land trust in York.
“Their project involves not just building sustainable housing, but also operating a mutual home ownership approach, rather than involving profit-focused landlords or housing developers. This means residents become shareholders in a co-operative society and homes will be kept affordable for future generations.”
Students were able to hear directly from Yorspace how they developed their new model of home development and ownership, just one of many employers who help shape our courses.
Stephen empowers his students through using the same teaching methods that experienced professionals learn to develop their careers further. He explains, “We use reflective practice, which is the same method professionals use in their development. It’s a shared learning experience, together questioning and examining real-world situations, not just looking at theory.
“It’s very different to what students have experienced in their A Level and BTEC studies. It’s a democratic process. Students have just as much influence in the discussions and conclusions we come to as I do.”
Students explore alternative business models across a range of sectors such as food, energy and retail. “Warrington Borough Council are another great example we examine. The cost and sustainability of the energy we use to heat our homes is a huge problem, especially for those on low incomes. Warrington Council are producing and distributing their own energy which is an entirely new busines model and gives them power to set their own pricing, without the need to make profits.”
Building future leaders
To show students what it is possible to achieve, Stephen often calls upon inspiring individuals and organisations to share their story. He recently invited Isabella Losada, author of The Joyful Environmentalist: How to Practise without Preaching, to talk to his students.
As a society we’ve lost our ability to think creatively about problems. I want to encourage young people to embrace play and think outside the box to find solutions.
Taking a proactive approach to economics
Stephen believes that, with the right tools and mindset, students will have the skillset to lead businesses in a way that has long term good, “There are positive ways of tackling sustainable development, and the mindset we develop in our students allows them to see beyond the negative narrative.”
By studying business or economics with us, you’ll be able to think of new ways of doing business, and finding effective ways to balance people, profit and planet.