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#77 On goals and targets
For his birthday, J was given a Rubik’s Cube. I’ve never learned to solve a cube and have had to hide one in shame more than once. So dutifully, I put “Solve a Rubik’s Cube” on the list of fifty things I want to learn before I’m fifty.
However, the cube stayed on our living room table, unsolved and inviting. I visited a few websites with knowledgeable explanations and hard-to-learn methods. I almost gave up until I bumped into this WIRED video with an easy, brute-force method. Seventy minutes later, I had solved my first Rubik’s Cube. Now, I’m down to about four minutes.
The approach is not pretty. My understanding of the cube is still rudimentary. I make a beginner’s mistake on two out of every three attempts. Yet, solving a Rubik’s cube consistently in under a minute (the way it is on my list) is within reach.
Professionally, I work on sustainable development as much as I can. One of the lists for that work is the Sustainable Development Goals or Seventeen Things the World Wants To Achieve before The Year 2030. This year marks the halfway point for the agenda. My inbox is overflowing with research and reports. Alas, not on the progress we’re making. Instead, in year eight of the agenda, most reports such as this recent one attempt to restructure the goals or move the goalposts because we’re not reaching them.
I’ve commented on this before, originally in Dutch:
Every month there are a few criticisms of the SDGs. A goal is missing, other goals are controversial, or the priorities are not right. Now there’s even a post going viral that questions the goals themselves. Because: the goals are not attainable and therefore unrealistic. Instead, we should start working on conditions for sustainable development, ‘enablers.’
The first type of criticism of the SDGs is a major strength of the agenda. By adding or questioning goals, organizations, government and people make the agenda their own. Studio Moio in Leiden, for example, added art as its 18th goal, which enables them to give all their activities extra momentum.
The second type of comment that the goals are unrealistic (…) is of a different order. It ignores the great value that ‘unrealistic’ goals have in themselves. It opens the door to years of talk when action is needed.
Much like solving a Rubik’s Cube, the SDGs cannot be attained by being a well-structured list. Instead, we need to start acting, at scale, to achieve them.
With that in mind, I was thrilled to discover the Arts and Social Impact Explorer. It highlights the role of the arts in 28 topics across 10 categories, ranging from housing and tourism to public welfare and innovation. Every topic comes with a fact sheet with examples and links. A treasure trove of ideas to start working today on a better world.
Sustainability is a hot topic in schools and universities. With Leiden being home to many of them, there is a constant stream of students who do research for us. I’m incredibly thankful for the perspectives and ideas they bring to the table. This week, I received the final report from a group that looked at how to make a just transition towards sustainability goals in Leiden. Their principal findings: people that are left behind with regards to educational and economic opportunity are also left behind in sustainability. However, this is not because they are not interested or willing to make the transition! From the report:
“Those of a lower educational and/or economic status are increasingly alienated from their local initiatives, as is suggested by figures 3 and 7 where nonparticipants of these brackets display interest in getting involved however do not feel that they know enough about the sustainability initiatives in their local area to do so.”
“Respondents who did not participate in the lower two income brackets also cite a lack of time as a barrier to participation. This is a common theme in the discussion of environmental justice as those with fewer resources do not have the privilege of dedicating time to vocational activities such as participating in local initiatives, thus missing out on the vital social benefits of participation.”
The second finding is more delicate: people that participate in sustainability initiatives have a lower footprint.
“Despite the relatively large difference in average impact scores between participants and non- participants, it is important to note that they establish a correlation between the variables (participation and behaviour), not causation. The claim is not that participation leads to sustainable behaviour change, but rather that participation within our dataset is correlated with a lower impact score, which could signify a relation.”
“Overall, the open-ended question allowed us to reinforce the findings of the impact scores. While the impact scores could only show a correlation between participation and sustainable behaviour, these self-reported answers show a causal relationship. They also usefully flesh out what ‘sustainable behaviour’ might consist of; that it is more than just separating waste and driving electric cars but can also incorporate broader things such as an increased consciousness or a reduction in personal consumption.”
The findings reinforce what we already believed to be true. To some, sustainability has become a tool of exclusion and oppression. Sustainable development without a focus on inclusion and participation of all will fail to deliver on its promises.
Did you ever notice how LinkedIn hardly pushes the articles you write on their own platform? I wonder why they don’t. While I quickly get 1-2,000 views on an update, it takes weeks to get even 100 on an article. So I probably shouldn’t publish on LinkedIn and instead share this image here:
I don’t think I have to talk about this. Thanks, as always, for reading! In your case, thank you for reading until the very end. I hope you’re doing well and we’ll be in touch next week,
Until then, take care!