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My personal Sustainable Development Goals

Guest editorial by Paul Shrivastava, Member of the Transformations to Sustainability Steering Committee; Senior Adviser and Former Executive Director of Future Earth; and Professor of Management at Concordia University, Quebec, Canada. 

Most discussions of "transformations to sustainability" focus on the policies, businesses, or other large-scale initiatives that will help take us to a more sustainable world, without considering transformation at a personal level. It does not get much play in the professional literature. I guess it’s considered too subjective and personal a practice, and not of interest in policy-making terms. Yet personal stories (of values, attitudes, behaviours) of transformation are important and can be inspiring. What’s more, they help us to see that taking personal responsibility is essential if we’re to get to systemic transformations.
Personal transformations to sustainability allow us to model the sustainability behaviours that we preach in our research efforts and policy recommendations. They make our abstract values and unstated underlying assumptions more concrete and embodied. They can serve as examples for making our communities sustainable. Consistency between personal behaviour and professional output gives credibility to our work in the sustainability sciences.
Personal sustainability is also important from the viewpoint of showcasing collective effectiveness. The overall narrative of sustainability is framed by global and all-encompassing problems, which can leave individuals feeling helpless. Wondering whether our personal efforts will make any difference to sustainability challenges can make us feel disempowered and reluctant to act. Yet collective sustainability is a result of many individual efforts.

This brief editorial seeks to put personal action and responsibility back at the centre of our analysis of sustainability. I would like to hear your personal transformation stories. To get us started, I will share one of mine. My personal sustainable development goal relates to meat-eating.
World leaders agreed to Agenda 2030, with 17 different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What do the SDGs mean to us personally? How can we engage with issues of poverty, food-water-energy for all, gender equality, education, natural assets, sustainable consumption and production, and so on? I would like to hear your personal stories on how you’re acting on any of these goals. There is much to learn from each other and from our personal behaviour. I hope you will share your stories.

Read more on our blog, and submit your stories of personal transformation!

Over €13 million funding available for social science-led research on transformations to sustainability.

There are just a few days left to respond to the call for proposals launched by the Belmont Forum, NORFACE and the ISSC under the banner of “Transformations to Sustainability” (T2S).

This T2S call is helping to place social science and humanities at the heart of interdisciplinary research on and for sustainability, with a focus on three themes:
  • Governance and institutional dimensions of transformations to sustainability
  • Economy and finance of transformations to sustainability
  • Well-being, quality of life, identity, and social and cultural values in relation to transformations to sustainability
The programme also aims to tap into and develop existing knowledge by facilitating new collaborations between countries which are not frequently involved in large-scale international collaborative research efforts, notably low- and middle-income countries.

The ISSC is participating in the programme with dedicated funding for research teams in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Kalpavriksh led case studies in India
How do worldviews on well-being and development relate to the process of creating alternatives? Researchers from Kalpavriksh, part of the ACKnowl-EJ network, have begun three case studies in India which aim to deepen understanding on how transformations towards sustainability are enacted in specific locations. 

The studies will be informed by the Alternative Transformations Framework, which has been prepared by Kalpavriksh for ACKnowl-EJ. The Framework aims to gain more in-depth understanding of alternative transformations in political, economic, social, cultural and ecological fronts, and of the worldviews that underlie or inform such transformations. It builds on an existing process called Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence) that Kalpavriksh has been helping coordinate in India. ACKnowl-EJ will now be using this framework at 2 - 3 sites, and will test and further develop the framework over the next few months and years.
A series of Transformation Labs (T-Labs) convened by the PATHWAYS network in recent weeks highlight the potential of T-Labs as a platform for social change. 

One T-Lab, in Nairobi, examined the potential of mobile payment systems for solar home systems (SHS) for domestic energy in Kenya. SHS has the potential to transform pro-poor energy access, but there are political, technical and social barriers preventing its development. The T-Lab examined options to address these barriers – especially around coordination and mediation between different groups involved in energy policy. Feedback from participants suggested that it had helped to open their minds to options and challenges that they had not previously considered.

In Hebei Province, China, a T-Lab focused on the social impacts of China’s ambitious Five Year Plan to become more environmentally sustainable. The T-Lab was an initial opportunity for dialogue on the policy-making process, and will be followed by participatory observations and in-depth interviews to track the changes arising from this green transformation lab.

The North American hub of the PATHWAYS network convened a T-Lab in the wetland community of Xochimilco, Mexico City. The lab was designed to transform agency in order to open up new pathways for addressing the persistent problem of urbanization-induced ecological degradation.
ECRs from T-Learning Network recognized
Three early-career researchers from the T-Learning network recently won the Rhodes University Student Community Engaged Researcher of the year award. Tichaona Pesanayi, Chisala Lupele and Phindile Sithole are leading development of practical approaches to developing socially engaged, transformative learning research.

At a time when South Africa has been experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, the researchers' learning network focused on practical ways of securing water (Amanzi in isiXhosa) for food for smallholder farmers and homestead food gardeners in the rural Eastern Cape. The co-engaged learning network blended indigenous knowledge (found locally among farmers) and new scientific knowledge (shared by the Water Research Commission, South Africa).
Webinar on Transformative innovation for a 1.5ºC world
Researchers from the ACKnowl-EJ network launched a new map to mark International Women’s Day earlier this month. 'Latin-American Women Weaving Territories' visualizes the struggles of women in Latin America against mining and in defence of life, dignity and territory. It highlights the personal stories of women on the impacts they suffer, as well as the alternatives they are putting in place.

ACKnowl-EJ also launched its website in March. 
Leontief Prize
Joan Martinez-Alier and James Boyce have been awarded the 2017 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. The prize jury commended "their ground-breaking theoretical and applied work that has effectively integrated ecological, developmental, and justice-oriented approaches into the field of economics."

Joan Martinez-Alier is a member of the ACknowl-EJ network, and has served as co-director of EJAtlas. Martinez-Alier currently directs the EnvJustice Project on ecological distribution conflicts and the global movement for environmental justice. 

GDAE (The Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University) awards the Leontief Prize each year to leading theorists who have developed innovative work in economics that addresses contemporary realities and supports just and sustainable societies. The awardees' prize lecture on "Economics, Equity, and the Environment" was recorded, and videos from the event are expected to posted online soon


This month our emerging idea is offered by Rebecca Shelton of the PATHWAYS network, who says 'as academics in Sustainability Science, we are often accustomed to thinking about transformation as a challenging but positive change - its where we want to go.  However, for many, transformation is about loss. Last month we commenced a Transformation lab and, as we asked participants to imagine how they might preserve that which they value in a manner separated from the materiality of the things that currently represent those values (i.e. self-sufficiency rather than the chinampa farming system), we realized we were asking them to confront loss rather than preservation. The concept is not new (Moser 2013), but it is important to remember.'


Nadine Marshall, Neil Adger, Simon Attwood, Katrina Brown, Charles Crissman, Christopher Cvitanovic et al. 2017. Empirically derived guidance for social scientists to influence environmental policy. PLoS ONE 12(3)
This open access article lists ten top tips for social scientists wishing to expand their influence in the policy arena. The style is clear and accessible, and the recommendations broad enough to apply in different policy settings. But it doesn't downplay the constraints that can prevent scientists from getting involved in communication and engagement activities. Recommended by Lizzie Sayer, programme communications officer.

Troubles, by JG Farrell (1970)
Recommended by programme coordinator Sarah Moore, who says 'this really excellent novel observes the upheaval in Irish society in the period after the First World War, through the story of the decaying 'Majestic' hotel and its inhabitants. It's disturbing, funny, poignant and ironic - one of the most insightful portrayals of a social transformation I've come across'. 


Kalpavriksh Action Group, from the ACKnowl-EJ network, has presented a
first version of its “Alternative Transformations Framework”.

The Framework is a tool developed as part of the ACKnowl-EJ process, aimed for use by/with communities and civil society actors who are in the process of 'alternatives' transformation, i.e. changing situations towards greater justice, equity, sustainability, etc, including through systemic change. 


J. David Tàbara, Asun Lera St. Clair & Erlend A.T. Hermansen. 2017. Transforming communication and knowledge production processes to address high-end climate change (freely available at this link until 5 April). Environmental Science and Policy, vol. 17

This article analyses use of the latest IPCC report, arguing that there is a need to institutionalize transformation, and to reframe the concept of solutions as distributed networks of empowered and willing agents ready to act. It argues that research-policy emphasis should move from 'what is the problem to 'who is the solution'.


Sarah Bell, Adriana Allen, Pascale Hofmann and
Tse-Hui Teh (Eds). 2016. Urban Water Trajectories. London: Springer Future City Series. 

Water is an essential element in the future of cities. It shapes cities’ locations, form, ecology, prosperity and health. This book documents a sample of different trajectories, in terms of water transformations, option, services and politics. Comparison across different contexts demonstrates how the particular and the universal intersect in complex ways to generate new trajectories for urban water.


Adriana Allen, Pascale Hofmann, Jenia Mukherjee & Anna Walnycki. 2017. Water trajectories through non-networked infrastructure: insights from peri-urban Dar es Salaam, Cochabamba and KolkataUrban Research & Practice, Vol.10 (1)

Drawing on WatJust, an initiative supported by T2S, this article argues that across the urban global south, the future is not one of networked systems but rather one of ‘infrastructural archipelagos’ that need to be thoroughly understood in order to bridge the growing gap between everyday and large infrastructural planning practices.


Rita Lambert and Adriana Allen. 2016. Participatory Mapping to Disrupt Unjust Urban Trajectories in LimaGeospatial Technology - Environmental and Social Applications, Pasquale Imperatore (Ed.), InTech

This chapter shares the experience of two action research projects ReMap Lima and cLIMA sin Riego, where mapping has been used with three main objectives: to make visible what is otherwise ‘invisible’; to open up dialogue between different stakeholders in the city and to arrive at concrete actions, collectively negotiated between citizens and policy makers. The chapter reflects upon three interrelated sites of the mapping process: the reading, writing and audiencing of maps and explores how these can provide opportunities to break away from the polar positions often established between claimant/marginalized group and the state, thus aiming to contribute to a process of spatial co-learning across typically confronted actors.


Ethemcan Turhan, Arif Cem Gündoğan. 2017. The post-politics of the green economy in Turkey: re-claiming the future? Journal of Political Ecology. Vol. 24.

This article critically examines the post-politicisation of the green economy, by tracing its social construction and meaning-making. In doing so, it follows the green economy debate in the post-politicization of the environment in Turkey, a rapidly developing country with significant socio-ecological challenges. 


Bill Dennison blogs from a recent workshop convened by the ISSC in Transdisciplinary literacy: Seven principles that help define transdisciplinary research and Talking about Transdisciplinary research in Paris.


Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) has announced a 2017 Request for Proposals to Fund Science to Solutions Teams. Proposals are due by 7 June 2017.


Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene
24 – 25 April 2017
Colorado State University, USA
Co-sponsored by ACKnowl-EJ, who will organize a special plenary panel - open for registration

Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium
 17 – 19 May 2017
University of Michigan, USA 
Open for registration

The Fourth Annual Social Science Conference - The Environment and Social Transformation
19 – 21 May 2017
Al Akhawayn University, Morocco
Open for registration

23rd International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference
14 – 16 June 2017
Bogota, Colombia
Early-bird registration closes 31 March 2017

 12th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics
20 – 23 June 2017
Budapest, Hungary
ACKnowl-EJ network will organize a special session on “Challenges and Lessons from (radical) alternative transformations”

7th International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS2017): Global Goals - New Approaches to Knowledge Generation – Challenges and Solutions from Local to Global scales
24 – 26 August 2017
Stockholm, Sweden
Open for registration

Transformations 2017 - Transformations in Practice
30 August  – 1 September 2017
University of Dundee, UK
Early-bird registration closes 30 April 2017

Artem International Conference on Organizational Creativity and Sustainability
14 – 16 September 2017
Nancy, France
Call for abstracts closes 15 April 2017

II Conference of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS-II)
7 – 10 November 2017
Oaxaca City, Mexico
Call for abstracts closes 15 April 2017

World Social Science Forum 2018: Security and Equality for Sustainable Futures
25 – 28 September 2018
Fukuoka, Japan
First announcement

Contributions to this newsletter are welcome at
The Transformations to Sustainability Programme is coordinated by the ISSC and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Copyright © 2017 International Science Council, All rights reserved.

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Opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this newsletter are those of the contributors; the ISSC and its partners in the Transformations to Sustainability Programme accept no liability in this regard.