(List #71) Changing Perceptions

How to encourage students to change their perceptions (and approach to business).

(List #71) Changing Perceptions

Good morning! For those that are new to List, every time I go on a trip of some sort, I put together a List based on things that inspired me during my trip that relate to, or that can help with our work mainstreaming sustainability in some way. A few weeks ago, we finished a trip we had planned pre COVID. We drove from Perth, across the Great Central Road to Uluru in the centre of Australia, then South down to Eyre’s Peninsula in South Australia, and then West again back across the Nullarbor, including the longest straightest stretch of road in Australia. The map of central Australia may look empty, but it is far from it.

This week’s List explores how to change the way we perceive the world.

On another note, I am working on my next book and need to cut distractions, even the distractions that I love (a.k.a. this List). I have decided to be a bit more flexible in terms of how many examples are featured in each list (so between 5 and 7). Less time needed for reading means more time for you to implement these ideas. Win/win.

Please don't forget to send me your examples as well so I can share them here. This is a growing community that wants to hear what you are doing and learn from it. Examples can cover any aspect of your work, from research to curriculum, student engagement to campus activities.


1.     AN IMMENSE WORLD

I brought an immense book with me on this trip called An Immense World: How animal senses reveal the hidden realms around us by Ed Young (450 pages). The book is about how every animal perceives the world in different ways and it outlines hundreds of examples showing this. By page 3, it is clear that we see only a tiny portion of what the world actually is. But it is about so much more than that, in my view at least. We assume that the way we see the world, the way we do things, both as humans as a whole or as individuals or groups, is better somehow. It isn’t. It’s different and being aware of and exploring the way others see the world benefits our work and our lives. This book isn’t one you would find in the business section of the bookstore, but I read it as a business book and recommend you do too.

2.     HOW LANGUAGE INFLUENCES PERCEPTIONS

In Australia, Dreamtime or Dreaming is a term used to describe Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and existence. However, an Aboriginal elder we met on our trip told us that this isn’t a term used by Aboriginal people. The term used by non-Aboriginal people suggests that the beliefs are unreal, something imagined, like a story. The Aboriginal community at Uluru taught us about Tjukurpa, the foundation of their life and society. Tjukurpa refers to the creation period when ancestral beings created the world as we know it and religion, law and moral systems were formed. Tjukurpa is not written down, which another non-Aboriginal visitor listening on interpreted as it being “less real”. It is instead memorised, and it is a cultural obligation to pass on this knowledge to the right people.

+What makes something important? Are all important things written down? How do we lift sustainability issues to the higher position they should be taking in our society? How do we bring about change through our words?

3.     JUST ADD WATER

One of the key drivers to reaching the SDGs is to question assumptions more. This is the skill I feel students need perhaps the most. The way we do things, the way things have always been done, is not necessarily the only or best way. Take a battery for example. What do you need to make a battery? Steel, zinc, lead, lithium, potassium, graphite, plastic, cobalt, manganese are just a few commonly used materials, with most of these having a significant environmental and social impacts across their life cycle. But the definition of a battery isn’t a container with the above ingredient in it, it is a device that stores energy and then discharges it by converting chemical energy into electricity.  A new disposable battery made of paper that is turned on using just water has recently been developed that questions all of our battery assumptions.

+ Try taking an exercise or assignment you use in the classroom and asking students to identify and question their assumptions. It is easy to get overwhelmed, but important to see how many assumptions we make and the impact these have on the world around us.

4.     FERAL VS WILD

Australia has the largest wild populations of Arabian camels in the world. Over 1.2 million of them roam the deserts that we were driving through (sometimes blocking the dirt roads we were driving on). The animals were originally brought from India to Australia in the 1840s to be used as transportation across the harsh landscapes. When trucks took over, the camels were set free. As happy as we were to see them, camels are feral and cause an estimated $10 million damage each year to vegetation and infrastructure, and drink tanks of precious water dry. Large culling programmes have been attempted as a way to control numbers, however with limited success as there is no market for camel meat in Australia, or for camel milk (low lactose and cholesterol). We also saw hundreds of beautiful Brumby wild horses. Note that they are referred to as wild, although they are feral as well. With half a million of them roaming national parks, they are also destroying wildlife.

+ Marketing/entrepreneurship students: how would you go about changing consumer perceptions about camels in order to create a market for feral camel products and deal with this invasive species more sustainably?  What happens when people get attached culturally and emotionally to invasive species? Could we sell camel products the way we sell ocean plastic?

5.     BIG IMPACT

A possible solution to the donkey and horse problem isn’t just commercial. Take the Last Stop Donkey Program I learnt about during this trip. Donkeys are considered pests. A secondary school put in place a 12-week course with Grade 9 agriculture students where students work with a feral donkey and train them to be used in a farm environment. These are then sold to farmers who use them to scare off wild dogs that are increasingly attacking livestock. Such a simple solution that touches on so many different SDGs, from invasion species to education. Solutions don’t have to be big on paper to have a big impact.

+ Fine, I’m not expecting you to ask MBA students to train donkeys…but there is an approach here that could be used across many contexts.

6.     BIG THINGS

(Just Because) I haven’t done a “Just Because” entry for some time now…so here is a very random one. Australia likes big things. I’m not talking about big buildings or products; I’m talking about big statues of items that are popular in a particular community or that a community is known for. These are usually found in the centre of small towns, presumably as a way to attract tourists. A big statue of a banana can be found at Coffs Harbour, a big gumboot in Tully, a big merino sheep in Goulburn. We saw a big galah and a big kangaroo on our trip. If you are interested in seeing all of the other big things you can visit in Australia, check out the Wikipedia page.


YOUR TURN

A reader is wondering if anyone has considered changing the name of their department to include ESG/Sustainability as part of a rebranding exercise?


WHAT I’VE BEEN READING

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PepsiCo's push into regenerative agriculture: real or greenwashing

France's Senate approved a bill that requires car parks with space for 80+ vehicles to be covered by raised solar panels.

British food industry needs to do better on sustainability

OECD Climate Action Monitor 2022

Mapping ESG Content and the SDGS to PhD Programs

Hiring remote workers from distressed countries

Of the billions spent to protect Indigenous Land, only 17% goes to Indigenous peoples

How to recycle a 14-story office tower