Learning via Dialogue for the Sustainability Practitioner
Today, it’s widely accepted that sustainability is the business challenge of the twenty first century. Articles in esteemed publications regularly espouse the benefits of incorporating sustainability to varying degrees (1). From an intellectual standpoint, sustainability can be integrated into almost every aspect of business administration and in practice this is beginning to occur more often. From public relations to finance, supply chain management and employee engagement; sustainability is set to transform the business landscape.
While sustainability practitioners rejoice at this trend, many are also tacitly aware that it is leading to increased specialization within the profession. Being a transdisciplinary subject, sustainability now interfaces with almost every traditional academic discipline. In addition, many new practitioners are entering the sustainability sphere from careers in other professions like engineering, law, technology, finance, management consulting, etc. They bring with them their specialized expertise, modes of thinking, problem-solving and professional languages.
The unintended side effect of all this specialization is a phenomenon known as fragmentation of knowledge - a process whereby professionals have difficulty keeping up with important developments in their own subspecialties, not to mention their field in general (2). Evidence of this can be seen in the growing amount of industry specific jargon. Nelson Switzer recently listed a handful of sustainability related acronyms to illustrate this point. ESG, CDP, CR, SD, CSO, NFI, KPI – yikes! (3). How many do you know?
Increasing complexity is to be expected in an emerging field of knowledge and practice like sustainability, but it still presents a considerable hurdle that must be overcome; and soon. Sustainability practitioners are in a race against time to reduce the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. If we are to have any hope of mitigating these impacts, it will be necessary to increase the speed of best-practice adoption within corporate sustainability.
Now more than ever, there is need for improved dialogue and collaboration between sustainability practitioners.
Research has shown that dialogue is the most effective way to learn (4). Not one-on-one in the traditionally understood sense, but rather a form of creative dialogue occurring in a group setting that allows for the free flowing exchange of ideas and information. Unlike passive pedagogical learning methods, dialogue requires active engagement in order to participate. This facilitates the process of critical self-reflection, which leads to the synthesis and acceptance of new ideas. Opportunities for collaboration come in short order.
So instead of meeting a colleague, meet with colleagues. Attend sustainability networking events that specifically emphasize dialogue. The SPRiNG event held monthly in Toronto is one such example. Make it your job to connect people and act as a catalyst for positive change.