A reflection essay from Together|Ensemble 2023, Canada’s national conference on the Sustainable Development Goals

How can future sustainability scholars, professionals, and practitioners bring about the change that is needed?

We were in our usual nook in the dining area—at the far end of the table, beside a large window, facing the back door—when my dog abandoned her warm blanket to peer through the door lites. Taking a page from her book, I looked through the window on my
right; I could see what piqued her interest. Halfway through March, the backyard had turned into a familiar scene: a snow globe, shaken gently.

I was tying up loose ends for an experiential community-engaged learning project between the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council. On that chilly morning, I was getting ready to submit a reflection piece on the
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they related to my project tasks—developing informative and educational digital communications content on waste reduction and management in the province—and to myself as an individual, a
community member, and a researcher and practitioner in my discipline.

While poring over my draft the previous night, I mulled over how such experiential learning activities done in partnership with local organizations could help higher education students connect with the SDGs and make meaning of them based on their experiences. The project, along with the SDGs Training of Multipliers I attended on campus during SDGs Week a few days before, helped me think critically about my prospective doctoral research project. In the field of sustainability science, in which area would my study have the most impact, in what way, and to what extent?

Using a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning lens, my research will explore how we can equip future sustainability scholars, professionals, and practitioners with the competencies they need to effect positive change in their communities, institutions, and
networks. My project falls under the umbrella of the Transdisciplinary Education Collaboration for Transformations in Sustainability. Along with gardening, green grass, and gophers, spring ushered in a new opportunity to engage with the SDGs. At Together | Ensemble 2023, Canada’s national conference dedicated to monitoring the SDGs, I noted three recurring elements among the sessions I joined online and in person. Let’s call them the three Cs in SDGs: context, communication, and collaboration.

I was glued to my computer screen during a panel discussion on localizing the SDGs. The panelists highlighted the need to not only shift power to communities and local organizations—to make sure that they have access to the resources they need, when they need it, to make their own decisions on matters that affect their lives—but also engage them in conversations about the SDGs in ways that recognize and respect where they’re coming from. Context matters.

Sustainable development and the SDGs can mean different things to different people. During the in-person session on opportunities for northern and Indigenous communities, speakers and participants pointed out the need for context-appropriate ways of
communicating. To communicate the SDGs effectively and co-create solutions with diverse communities and local organizations, we need to know what they aim to achieve, why they want and how they plan to achieve it, who will reap the benefits, and
what types of support they need to put their plan into action.

When Dr. Jean Andrey, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, talked about the research and training roles of universities and other knowledge institutions, I thought about the outline I was preparing for my doctoral research proposal. Now more than ever, members of academia must work with communities and practitioners to prepare students for careers in the ever-evolving realm of sustainability and to make sure that methods of student
assessment and program evaluation match the intended outcomes.

Summer is upon us, but it’s a blustery day. In our usual nook in the dining area, my dog trips the light fantastic as she waits eagerly for me to open the door. She sprints across the deck, looks at me before running down the steps, and swirls and twirls around the
plant boxes that are now home to vegetables big and small. Pen and paper in hand, I stand under the spruce tree and watch birds flitter across the backyard.

Understanding the three Cs in the SDGs will help us bridge our differences and move toward our shared goals. Future sustainability scholars, professionals, and practitioners need to be able to contextualize the SDGs, communicate clearly and effectively with
different types of audiences in various contexts, and collaborate with actors from a range of sectors.

It’s not just about ensuring people have a seat at the table. It’s understanding that at the very core, we’re all in the same boat, hoping to make it safely to shore.


About the Author

Marie Rogel is a doctoral student at the School of Environment and Sustainability, a graduate certificate student at the Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and the Community Garden Coordinator of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan. She is a member of the Transdisciplinary Education Collaboration for Transformations in Sustainability and a communications volunteer with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council.