30 SES 14 B, ESE and the SDGs
In order to meet challenges of sustainable development, the United Nations adopted the “Agenda 2030” with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN, 2015). Education is central to achieving the SDGs. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is explicitly recognised in the SDGs as part of SDG 4 on quality education (target 4.7). At the same time, it is important to emphasise the central importance of ESD for all other 16 SDGs. With its goal of developing cross-cutting sustainability competencies among learners, ESD makes an essential contribution to all efforts to achieve the SDGs. This is because ESD empowers individuals to participate in sustainable development by promoting social, economic and political change (UNESCO, 2017; Rieckmann, 2018).
However, for achieving the SDGs not only empowering individuals is crucial, also far-reaching changes in all sectors of the economy are needed. The agribusiness and food production sector is connected to a particularly large number of the SDGs (FAO, 2017). Coining the slogan “How food connects all the SDGs”, Rockström and Sukhev (2016) illustrate the interconnectedness of all SDGs to the topic of sustainable food. Sustainability challenges in the agribusiness and food production sector are manifold and vary widely across different regions, products, production system as well as stages of the value chain. “Agriculture both contributes to climate change and is affected by climate change” (Heinrich Böll Foundation et al., 2019: 62). Likewise also for other sustainability topics, challenges of the agribusiness and food production sector encompass both, challenges to which the sector contributes, as well as challenges that the sector faces. These include environmental problems, scarce resources, and climatic changes (Heinrich Böll Foundation et al., 2019).
Achieving the SDGs and addressing these complex global problems is therefore urgent, and “transformative change […] is necessary” (UN Environment, 2019: 18). A fundamental change in the use of natural resources is needed, “clean-up and efficiency improvements will not be sufficient” (ibid: 19). However, with regard to the engagement of companies with the SDGs, current studies indicate: While a high share of businesses (71%) are planning to engage with the SDGs, it seems more difficult to “embed the SDGs into strategy” (planned by 41% within five years), and especially tools for assessing a company’s impact on the SDGs are less known (13%) (PWC, 2015: 1).
For implementing the SDGs in business practice, opportunities must be created for transformative learning processes that enable managers and employees to develop competencies for sustainable business (Osagie et al., 2016; Wesselink et al., 2015) and competencies in sustainable entrepreneurship (Foucrier & Wiek, 2019; Ploum et al., 2018) and to critically reflect on their values and attitudes (Schank & Rieckmann, 2019; Sterling, 2011).
Against this background this paper asks: Which competencies do managers and employees in companies of the agribusiness and food production sector need for implementing the SDGs? How can the development of such competencies as well as the critical reflection of values and attitudes be facilitated in the context of labs?
This paper presents results from the EU-funded project “SDGs labs – making the SDGs our business” involving eight universities and business partners from Austria, Germany, Italy and Portugal. The project aims at the integration of the SDGs into business practices of the agribusiness and food production sector, by designing and piloting different types of labs (Co-Learning Labs bringing together different stakeholders from the sector; and Innovation Labs conducted within one company from the sector) as innovative educational formats for developing managers’ and employees’ competencies, creating a space for the critical reflection of values and attitudes and fostering co-learning among different stakeholders of the sector.
For identifying the competencies which are needed for implementing the SDGs in the business practice, 26 expert interviews and five focus groups were conducted in the five pilot regions of the project (Vienna region, Austria; Oldenburger Münsterland, Germany; South Tyrol, Italy; Portugal North, and Portugal Centre and West, Portugal). Using a “purposeful sampling” strategy (Patton, 2002: 234), companies and associations of different stages of the value chain, different sizes and types and different levels of experience with sustainability were included for a “maximum variation” (ibid: 235). Focus groups were conducted in each of the project’s region in order to complement the companies’ internal views and to refine insights. All data both from the interviews and the focus groups were analysed in a qualitative content analysis following Kuckartz (2014) and using MaxQDA software, with codes derived in a deductive-inductive process. Consequently, for identifying suitable methods and tools for the translation of the SDGs into business practice, and for identifying needs for a further development of the methods and tools, several analysis steps were conducted. First, an analysis of transformative methods and tools was conducted, encompassing literature on methods and tools in the context of sustainable development, innovation and transformation as well as practical sources such as guidelines. Second, a framework for translating the SDGs into day-to-day practices of enterprises was compiled. Building on several already published translation frameworks of sustainability or of the SDGs in general, the focus here was to extract and combine those aspects that address the needs of the project. Finally, based on the insights from the interviews and focus groups, the translation framework and the results of the analysis of methods and tools, and after running a series of capacity trainings for the project staff, Co-Learning Labs and Innovation Labs were designed and conducted in the four pilot regions. In each region, one Co-Learning Lab (each consisting of two workshops) and one Innovation Lab (each consisting of three to four workshops) was run. This piloting process was accompanied by an evaluation consisting of questionnaires (completed by the lab participants before and after the workshops) and a focus group with all lab facilitators. The quantitative data is analysed with SPSS, and the qualitative data is analysed following Kuckartz (2014) and using MaxQDA.
The outcomes of the interviews and focus groups show that, beyond a professional background in agriculture or food production, specific competencies are needed to contribute to implementing the SDGs. Linking the results to the sustainability competencies framework provided by Wiek et al. (2011), the following competencies have been identified: systems-thinking competencies (e.g. ability for networked thinking, have a good overview of the needs of the organization, holistic thinking); anticipatory competencies (e.g. ability to consider effects of certain products, create a positive vision for the future); normative competencies (being critical to detect weaknesses but solutions as well; mindfulness: mindful treating of people, land, any resource); personal competencies (e.g. personal interest and motivation for the SDGs; courage to change something), strategic competencies (e.g. ability to make the SDGs tangible; openness to set new goals and to work for them, creativity to solve problems); and social/ interpersonal competencies (e.g. ability to inspire and activate people, translate the goals into a simple language). The analysis of transformative methods and tools identified methods and tools such as: online courses, formats related to Theory U, design thinking, project-related learning. As a concrete output, a manual was compiled that summarizes and structures the insights gained in the analysis of the transformative methods and tools. It includes the most important methods and tools for implementing the SDGs in the different contexts of the agribusiness and food production sector. The data from the still ongoing quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the Co-Learning and Innovation Labs will allow describing and better understanding the learning processes of the participants of the labs and to assess the educational effects of the different transformative methods and tools and the outcomes of the labs as educational formats with regard to the development of competencies and the critical reflection of values and attitudes.
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