As environmental scientists, we spend a lot of time studying global trends and problems – like climate change, habitat loss and species extinction. We build models, predict scenarios, write reports, and hang our heads in misery.
Global environmental sustainability challenges are as immense as they are daunting. And while it is important to continue championing for greater political uptake of sustainable solutions, we risk becoming disillusioned if we forget the value of local communities and individual actions.
This year, the Uraidla Sustainability Fair featured a Q&A session with a small group of locals who are driving change in their communities. Hosted by Environment Institute Interim Director, Professor Andrew Lowe, the session highlighted key insights on how to drive environmental action at the local level.
Among the cohort interviewed by Professor Lowe was a student who motivated her high-school to recycle plastic waste for charity, as well as the chairperson of the an Adelaide Hills bushcare group that are actively undertaking restoration plantings after bushfires. Also on the panel was an Adnyamathanha business-owner spearheading the native food industry in South Australia, and a chef-cum-entrepreneur leading a positive-ageing movement that fosters traditional skills.
One of the key messages that emerged from the conversations, explains Professor Lowe, is that motivating people to take action for sustainability hinges entirely on the ability to tap into their core values.
“We all do things for a reason. Whether we spend time with our families, or at work, or volunteering for a cause – we do it because that thing is meaningful to us. We’re much more likely to make decisions motivated by our values than we are out of a sense of obligation, or guilt.”Professor Andy Lowe
But there is an important ingredient required to transform values into action, he explains. “Often times when our values are challenged, we become so outraged we don’t know what to do with ourselves.”
“We swear at the television, we post about it on Twitter, and we even take to the streets in protest of the problem. Too often, we forget to ask ourselves what we can actively do to be part of the solution, in a way that is meaningful to us.”
What each of the Uraidla Sustainability Fair’s change leaders has in common was that they transformed their sense of outrage into tangible actions that aligned with their values and helped change the system.
“If we can actually do something to help change the system that challenges our values, then we start to align value with purpose,” says Lowe. “We then become a powerful force to be reckoned with.”