Sustainability Agency: How Learning Outcomes about Environment and Society are Impacted by an Understanding of the Role We Play in Damaging/Protecting It

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Lisa Papania, Beedie School of Business

Project team: Ross Mackay, research assistant

Timeframe: May to August 2018

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: BUS 735 – Sustainability

Final report: View Lisa Papania's final report (PDF)

Description: That the climate is warming due to an excessive accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere is not up for debate. That the plastics in the ocean are killing marine life and destroying ocean ecosystems is not in question. That polar ice is melting and island and coastal communities are being displaced or experiencing extreme weather conditions that make their homes unlivable are not projections; they’re realities. What to do about these things, though, is hotly and usually aggressively contested.

In Summer 2018, we will be studying whether bringing sustainability down to personal action enhances learning about the factors contributing to climate change and a feeling of empowerment to affect different, positive outcomes. My underlying theory is that knowledge affords us the power to do more of the things we consciously want to do, and fewer of the things we were participating in without our explicit consent. Basically, I believe that knowledge and conscious thought enable purposeful and intentional action. Increasingly, business people are being required to justify what they do and why they do it in their business, and these exercises will give them some frameworks for justifying their arguments.

Therefore, the objective of this study is to document students’ arguments about why they want to change anything or not change anything that I am most interested in. I want to see whether bringing actions down to the individual level encourages students to understand and apply sustainability thinking; or whether the value-laden aspects of this are too alienating, forcing students to withdraw from learning completely.

Questions addressed:

  • How big a deal is sustainability to the students?
  • What is the students’ perception of what sustainability means?
  • Is learning about sustainability related to interest in sustainability?
  • What factors related to sustainability do students bring up in class discussions?
  • To what extent do students exhibit caring or not caring about sustainability issues and does that change throughout the course?

Knowledge sharing: Segal’s Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Beedie’s Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Director of the Part-time MBA Program, the Co-Director of Business of Design, and Beedie’s Special Projects Manager were invited to attend the students’ presentations. Feedback from this presentation evening was extremely positive, with attendees commenting that the students’ work was important and impressive. I plan on submitting my findings to teaching journals and conferences.

Keywords: sustainability; engagement; agency;action; behaviour; values, caring;environment; social; empowerment