BUSINESS FOR THE FUTURE There is a striking contradiction around sustainability. Companies are increasingly using sustainability as an argument when selling their products. Sustainability is in the news. The production of food is under critical scrutiny. There will be more regulations on sustainability, sustainable products such as electric cars will even receive financial benefits and subsidies. Students take to the streets to demonstrate in favor of a sustainable society. In view of the great attention and the great importance of sustainability, you would think that sustainability has now acquired a prominent place in education.

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Surprisingly, that is not the case. Some teachers are very passionate about this theme, but these seem to be the exceptions. Programs pay some attention to it in their training, within MBO the option Sustainability is regularly chosen. Sustainability seems quite important, but it is hardly taken up as urgent. The situation regarding sustainability is very similar to that regarding the theme of “entrepreneurship” about 10 years ago. The social importance of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship grew strongly at that time. Even then there was a small group of enthusiastic teachers who made a case for it. Even then, the study programs and colleagues reluctantly joined in. Entrepreneurial behavior and entrepreneurship are now regarded as a self-evident part of education. The translation of sustainability to education will probably be the same.


But that will not happen automatically, because the image is currently often not positive or attractive. It is often presented as a negative message: how bad things are going with the environment, the earth, the mountain of plastic waste and more. The positive aspects, such as decreasing poverty worldwide and the emergence of new opportunities and solutions, receive much less attention. In the image, the negative feeling about sustainability wins out over the positive feeling, the conviction that there are problems and that we can solve them. This negative image does not attract students, but rather repels it. This example shows how important imaging is. The “Sustainability” course of an educational institution attracted too few students. The name of the program was changed to “Future Studies”; the content of the training remained the same. The program is now attracting a large number of students.


Another step that needs to be taken relates to the content of education. Many Sustainability lessons are completed in an almost trivial way: turn off a dripping tap, do not use plastic bags or use LED lighting. For many students this is so self-evident that they don’t care. Sustainability is approached too simply in this way. Another pitfall is that problems are tackled too extensively. So extensive that it far exceeds the sphere of experience and the possibility of the student to do something about it. The melting of the ice cap is an example of this. Sustainability is too great here. “If it’s that big and I can’t do anything about it, then never mind,” is the response.


The missing step is the practical translation of sustainability into the profession . The point here is that students will recognize what the practical translation of sustainability means in professional practice. This can be about more or less obvious things; in construction, for example, about separating waste streams and reusing them. But it can also be about innovative improvements, such as recovering unreacted cement in concrete. Or one step further: molecular recycling. For example, plastic is recycled into small molecular parts, parts that are reused to make clean plastic. By looking at the company with a sustainable view, new opportunities arise and sustainability is another word for “doing business for the future”.