Learning strategies for sustainable organisations
The book is a research-informed practical guide to anyone who is concerned about supporting organisations in seeking to operate more sustainably. What it says is based on several years of study in academic research about sustainability, organisational sustainability and organisational learning about sustainability, and over 30 years of practical experience of designing, delivering and evaluating learning programmes.
Broadly the book is divided into two parts. Chapters 1 to 4 cover the subject of sustainability itself, and Chapters 5 to 9 explore the learning implications of sustainability.
Chapter 1 starts by explaining what sustainability means, acknowledging that it is a highly contested concept. It then explores what are sometimes known as the ‘three pillars’ of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Across all of the sustainability literature is an acknowledgement that to work with sustainability requires a systems thinking approach. Chapter 2 therefore provides an introduction to what systems thinking means, considering its core principles of multiple perspectives, interrelationships and boundary judgements, considering what these mean for the purpose of an organisation, and then looking at associated topics such as complexity and wicked problems. The chapter concludes with a look at two key systems thinking tools that will form the basis for the practical development of a learning strategy, the Viable System Model and Critical Systems Heuristics.
Chapter 3 considers the political economy of sustainability. Organisations exist within and must interact with an economic landscape. To consider sustainability it is therefore important to understand the economic factors which currently and could in the future drive sustainability.
This leads us into Chapter 4 with a detailed look at what might be called organisational sustainability, and how organisations can behave in order to operate in a sustainable manner. This focuses on the implications of both environmental and social sustainability, and how these can contribute to the economic sustainability, or viability, of the organisation itself.
With Chapter 5 start looking at the learning-related implications of sustainable practice. The first three chapters of this second part consider how to develop a learning strategy — how to identify the content of learning in Chapter 5, what learning mechanisms may be utilised in Chapter 6, and what pedagogical principles will help to make these mechanisms more effective in Chapter 7. As these chapters unfold we will look at how the two systems thinking tools outlined in Chapter 2 can help us to identify content and develop strategies for mechanisms and principles. By the end of Chapter 7 we have a fully developed checklist that can be used to work out a strategy.
Being able to evaluate the success of the learning strategy is crucial, and Chapter 8 looks at ways to evaluate learning strategies, again using systems thinking ideas. This provides a radical departure from the traditional but somewhat limited ways in which training is evaluated.
Chapter 9 concludes the book by providing a selection of tools and templates that you can adapt to use when facilitating learning about sustainability.