Photo: Marius Boatca via Flickr

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 blog story 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. For much of my life I was torn between being a vegetarian or meat eater. I understood all the arguments in favour of vegetarianism (preventing cruelty to animals, better health, ecological benefits). But I was never able to muster the self-discipline to act on that understanding. Three summers ago I was at a family reunion of some friends in the mountains of northern Albania. As per tradition they slaughtered a lamb for the family picnic. I asked to help with the process. The unsuspecting lamb was easy to catch, bind and kill. There was not much squealing or resistance, almost as though it cooperated in its own demise. Then the lamb was cleaned, prepared, barbequed. The absolute ordinariness of slaughtering an animal came as a shock to me. The experience made me ‘own’ my meat-eating more fully than ever before. It left me thinking about vegetarianism for months and even years. Every occasion of meat-eating was accompanied by a reflection on that day. I have not become a vegetarian. But my consumption of meat has significantly reduced, both in frequency and quantity (to about 10% of my norm). I see this as progress towards personal food sustainability.

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.

Has this story inspired you to start your own personal transformations to sustainability? Share your stories in the comments below, or send your blog proposals to transformations@worldsocialscience.org.

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