The power of positive acting: Reflecting on the need for authentically positive actions and seeds of hope in educating for sustainability

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Byrne, Edmond P.
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Most of the narratives, metrics and directions around sustainability and our unsustainable societies are negative. These include those around the climate crisis; catastrophic biodiversity and habitat loss; energy, water and material shortages amid ever increasing consumerist drivers; ocean acidification; growing levels of socio-economic inequality; degrading social infrastructure; increasing wealth accumulation, greed, social atomization and social isolation, and lack of institutional trust. While these all call out the issues as they present, they paint a rather depressing picture and prognosis, with little motivational value for change. On the other hand, overly positive narratives based on techno-optimistic futures, and the power of the markets (or the right app!) to solve the world’s problems are problematic, and open to charges of being inauthentic, hubristic short-termist and/or self-serving. Such narratives often ultimately serve to either mask the magnitude of the problem(s) and/or add to them. Thus while negative trends are more likely to precipitate a collective sense of helplessness and hopelessness than lead to transformative change, genuine positive wins can be inspirational, even if at small scales, as they can serve to highlight the potential for positive change. This paper considers the levels of engagement, reflection, insights, reactions and motivation for change by engineering students when asked as part of an assignment on a sustainability module to identify and reflect upon an authentically positive initiative or development, however small, which can assist in pointing towards the necessary transformational change to a sustainable society.
Sustainability competences , Transferable skills , Open-ended activities , Graduate attributes
Byrne, E. P. (2023) 'The Power of Positive Acting; Reflecting on the need for authentically positive actions and seeds of hope in educating for sustainability', 11th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference (EESD2023), Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 18-21 June.
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