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Sustainable Development and Purpose

We have looked at different ways people find happiness and meaning in life, and in the work they do. We looked at how fulfilment in work (whether it be paid or voluntary) depends in part on having a sense of enjoyment in what is done, and a sense of fulfilment in the outcomes.

In the next two weeks, we will be further exploring this sense of purpose and fulfilment, particularly in the context of those who find purpose through ‘making a difference’ and bringing about positive change, both small and large. We will consider the different approaches people adopt, how they fit into a larger picture, and the advantages and disadvantages of the ‘strategies’ they have chosen.

The case studies we will consider are examples of people engaging with some of the many challenges grouped under the heading of ‘sustainability’. A lot of these social and environmental challenges are addressed in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Not everyone will find motivation in engaging with these sustainability challenges, or a sense of purpose in making a difference in response to them. A lot of people have different priorities, and contribute to society and humanity in different ways. Everyone, whether they realise it or not, has a relationship with these sustainability challenges. We can broadly categorise this relationship into three themes:

RESPONSIBILITY: Any activity we carry out can have a social and environmental impact, and often this can be a negative impact. When we adopt an attitude of responsibility towards these challenges, we take a step towards understanding them. This helps us to reduce and mitigate the possible negative effects. Policy debates, both in countries and in organisations, often focus on to what extent we should adopt this approach of responsibility, and/or whether the cost trade off is too much in certain circumstances.

PURPOSE: The challenges of sustainability, and finding innovative ways of approaching them, are one source of finding meaning and purpose in life for many people. To adopt an attitude of purpose towards sustainability means to find some way of contributing to one aspect of the challenges it presents, and making it part of your life activities.

PREPARATION/FORESIGHT: The challenges of sustainability can be disruptive to the environment, society and legal framework. The effects of these challenges can also affect those who are engaged in different kinds of activities. For example, businesses may find their supply chains disrupted, people may find their houses flooded, energy prices may rise and certain raw materials used in manufacture may become depleted. To prepare for sustainability challenges is to consider how they might result in future impacts and disruptions, and how these might affect you and your activities. To prepare is to manage the risks of these disruptions and potentially identify opportunities that may emerge. In Week 4 we will discuss adaptation and resilience, in the context of climate change, which are examples of such preparation for negative effects.

Raising awareness of the SDGs you feel passionate about is also a really good way to get involved and take action. Project Everyone is a UK not-for-profit organisation, working in partnership with the UN to create and promote the SDG campaign. Their website is called Global Goals. They have lots of suggestions for how you can get involved in the campaign, and other organisations also working towards these goals. You can also use social media to spread awareness of the goals with the hashtag #GlobalGoals.

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This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Sustainable Futures

University of Bristol

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