Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Being the change

How can we work towards a sustainable future? Read on to find some ideas and methods that could help.
Being the change you want to see in the world
© Except for third party materials and where otherwise indicated, the copyright in the content provided on this page is owned by The University of Nottingham and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike UK 2.0 Licence

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Ghandi

The issues that we have showcased and discussed demonstrate the very real problems our world and society is facing in the coming years. This reading is intended to answer the question of “that is all very well, but what can we do about it?”

This question is not an easy one to answer, as the problems related to sustainability are complex, linked and of no single source. Logically therefore there are no single “silver bullet” answers to these problems and none are presented here. Instead we suggest concepts, general ideas and methods from engineering to equip us for making decisions to work towards a sustainable future.

Sustainability has begun to take a more prominent role in the media and society as a whole, as the very obvious problems of exponential growth, resource depletion, environmental pollution and social inequality are becoming more apparent. The role of engineering, in a broad sense a profession of problem solving, is significant.

When faced with the enormity of a problem such as global climate change, wide-scale deforestation or depleted natural resources, there are two ways of confronting it. The first would be to assume that the problem is so big and the causes so wide and diverse that any action made by an individual is insignificant so therefore not of any relevance and not worth starting. Another angle would be to consider the world and everything in it as immensely complex but with individual components and indeed actions all linked and interdependent.

The concept that everything is linked in some way means that actions however small are significant, and will affect everything else. This philosophy means that lifestyle choices can be made consciously and with conviction, and through greater number of people putting into practice what they believe day to day, that positive change can occur. There is an obvious need for top level coordination and direction when tackling global issues such as climate change, but real change can be led from the bottom up, with governments responding to powerful grassroots movements.

In this way everybody has the potential to be a leader in sustainability. In the West especially there is a level of privilege and security that gives freedom to consider these ideas and put into practice what we believe.

The concept of leadership coming from the bottom up is described in more detail by Satish Kumar, editor in chief of Resurgence magazine, in the article below:

We are all leaders, Satish Kumar

True and effective leadership is more about inspiration, facilitation and right action than about outcome, achievements and unrealistic targets.

A real leader leads by example. Anyone who demands, “Do as I say and not as I do!” is not a good leader. Integrity between words and deeds is an essential quality of inspirational leadership. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked: “When you call upon people to do something, they follow you in their millions; what is the key to your successful leadership?”

Gandhi reputedly replied: “I have never asked anybody to do anything I have not tried and tested in my own life. We have to practice what we preach. In other words, we have to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

One living example is more effective than a million words; congruence between preaching and practice is a prerequisite for purposeful leadership. We are all potential leaders, because we can all lead our own lives in the right direction.

We can show the world that a good life can be lived without exploitation, subjugation or domination of others, or of natural resources. We can show that a simple, wholesome and equitable life can be joyful and good. We can show that happiness doesn’t flow from material goods or the amount of money in our bank accounts: rather, happiness flows from the quality of the life we live, and the kind of relationships we have with our families, with our communities and with the natural world.

This is bottom-up leader-ship. Genuine leadership is not going to emerge from parliament or presidential palace. Leadership is not about legislation. The end of apartheid in South Africa, the establishment of civil rights in the USA and many other such transformations occurred in the history of humanity because millions of people took action at grassroots level and refused to accept the unjust order of the day. The feminist movement and the environmental movement are examples of people taking personal responsibility to participate in the process of the great transformation necessary for a just, sustainable and resilient future for the Earth and her people.

Leadership is an inner calling to lead ourselves and the world from subjugation to liberation, from falsehood to truth, from control to participation and from greed to gratitude.

We can all be leaders. All we have to do is wake up, stand up, live and act.

Used with permission from Resurgence & Ecologist

Think about: are you inspired to ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’?

© Except for third party materials and where otherwise indicated, the copyright in the content provided on this page is owned by The University of Nottingham and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike UK 2.0 Licence
This article is from the free online

Sustainability, Society and You

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now