Moodle Site is Back Online: Moodle 4.1 Upgrade is complete--you should be able to access your courses as of 1:45 pm EAS, 9/25/23

Sustainable Development Goals: Learner Reflects on Systems Approach

Dec 31, 2020
SDG Global Goals clock

Course:  Sustainable Development and Human Prosperity (2020)
Faculty Mentor: Christine Muller
Lead Faculty: Arthur Dahl

Editor’s Note:  What follows is Alexis Eelman’s Learning Self Assessment. This was her first Wilmette Institute course.

Reflect on what you have learned in this course.  Look again at your Personal Learning Plan.  Did you accomplish these goals?

My goals for this course were to gain a better understanding of what sustainability really means and encompasses, and to gain new insight from my peers. 

I have definitely learned more about sustainable development efforts, especially how the United Nations (UN) defines its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); I’ve learned how broad and all encompassing the term “sustainable development” is. Through Arthur Dahl’s book, I also realized how sustainable development involves a systems approach, in which every effort to live a sustainable life hinges on and affects all other aspects of sustainable living. All SDGs are interconnected, which makes perfect sense! 

By reading my peers’ forum entries, my perspective has been challenged, mostly through how I approach sustainability as a spiritual practice as well. Although I was aware that was a part of it, I tended to focus on the material side of sustainable living and forget the more important spiritual side.

Share some of the understandings and insights you have gained.  

What stood out to me most strongly throughout this course was the UN’s role in adopting the 2030 Agenda and creating the Sustainable Development Goals that came about 40 years after the Stockholm Conference and 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit. Even though some of these efforts to raise awareness required many years before important agreements like the 2030 Agenda were adopted, they paved the way for open conversation and continued pressure on the UN and other organizations. 

Recognizing that the term “sustainable development” didn’t have a single defined meaning until recently, it is understandable that the creation of SDGs required a detailed approach and was not completed until 2015. Sharing SDGs with large companies, especially those working to make an impact in sustainable development, is important and should be prioritized to bring about effective change! 

Learning about the summits and conferences of the past and how they have led to the UN’s definition of sustainable development and the creation of SDGs has been intriguing to me and has given me a more well-rounded understanding of sustainability. 

Have you acquired or improved any skills?

By gaining knowledge of the history of sustainability and the efforts of environmentalists and sustainable warriors of the past, I have gained a new appreciation for all the hard work committed to accessibility of resources and spread of knowledge for people who have an interest in sustainable living but may not know where to start. I now want to find ways to share this  information and make sustainable development more well known, but not such a daunting topic to dig into and understand. I hope to gain communication skills and understanding specific to this knowledge, so that teaching and sharing this new information is easier for me.

Have you experienced any new feelings or attitudes about this subject?

My feelings and attitudes toward sustainable development haven’t necessarily been highlighted to me as “new,” but I feel a deeper connection to this subject. My feelings and attitude are now more deeply rooted in evidence and history, with facts guiding my understanding. Taking this course — surrounded by other people and their different perspectives and interests in sustainability — has broadened my perspective. It has also given me comfort that, seeing the other people in this course focusing on different aspects or approaches to sustainability, all aspects are being focused on by someone. It seems daunting to remember all aspects of sustainable living, and I worry that sometimes, by focusing on a certain aspect, other aspects are being neglected. However, hearing different perspectives and focuses from my peers gave me comfort that someone is focusing on the parts that I am not; therefore, I feel comfortable honing in on more specific ways to be sustainable, instead of trying to do everything myself! 

Has there been a change in your values or beliefs?

My values and beliefs have not changed, per se, but they have deepened in intensity. I have gained a much better understanding of how vast and interconnected Sustainable Development Goals and efforts are and how broad the systems approach really is. I am more motivated now to lead a sustainable lifestyle and continue to learn about sustainable development in the material world and its connection to a spiritual world.

Now that the course has ended, what are the ways you can apply or use what you have learned in the future?

I am happy to have learned about the SDGs and the many different ways that sustainability is used and understood throughout all industries. Understanding the systems approach to sustainability has helped me to further understand different aspects of sustainable development, especially outside of living a sustainable personal life, which I am very passionate about learning. This course has enabled me to learn about the impacts of poverty and wealth when it comes to sustainability, which I hadn’t thought much about, but which is clearly an important aspect of sustainable development. By knowing this, I can better understand and live a more truly sustainable life in a well-rounded way. 

The best thing I have taken away from this course is the knowledge to share with others, especially now that I know more specifically about SDGs and the ways that living sustainably comes into play. Being able to have a better grasp of these concepts can enable me to teach more people more accurately. Thank you for putting together such an informative class! 



Alexis Eelman

Alexis lives in Atlanta, Georgia and works in the film industry on TV show and movies as an Assistant Director. Though this creative field has been very exciting and unconventional when it comes to work schedule, she began to notice how wasteful and unsustainable aspects of this work can be. Over the last few years, she has become very interested in understanding what it means to live sustainably, and is hoping to follow that new found passion centered around smaller scale sustainable living, and spreading the knowledge as she continues to learn herself. Her goal is to help others make small changes in their everyday lives that reduces waste, and supports smaller socially conscious companies so that a shift to overall sustainable living will be much easier for everyone!

Up Next...