Embracing pathways to sustainability

Published on 12 March 2021

How should people address complex problems like climate change, environmental destruction, poverty and injustice? Solutions that at first might seem ‘simple’ and immediate can quickly unravel and, in the longer term, may even do more harm than good. With there always many different approaches to addressing complex issues, the challenge is how to ensure multiple perspectives are heard, and how they shape the responses taken forward.

To encourage a different way of thinking about how to approach sustainability problems, the ESRC STEPS Centre, hosted by the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, has published a new animation introducing the idea of pathways to sustainability.

Watch the video

About the Pathways Approach

The STEPS Centre’s Pathways Approach recognises that sustainability problems are deep-rooted, complex and interconnected. There are countless different ways of seeing the same problems and responding to them, informed by people’s knowledge, cultures, histories, and values.

But powerful voices, expert views and simple solutions tend to dominate. Sometimes these solutions are presented as if there is no alternative, crowding out other ways of being and acting. There is a great deal of pressure to predict, manage and control.

The Pathways Approach aims to show different ways forward, informed by the perspectives, ideas and knowledge of less powerful and marginalised people. It acknowledges the different uncertainties people face around the world, and the varied ways they respond to them. It also explores the methods that can open up debates and broaden out possibilities.

For the past 15 years, the STEPS Centre with partners in the STEPS global consortium have put this idea of pathways to sustainability into practice. Whether concerned with technology development in Argentina, urban pollution in India, off Grid energy in Kenya, water pollution in Mexico, low-carbon change in China, or local agricultural systems in the UK, given the right conditions, they have seen that transformations can happen.

Methods and pathways

2021 is the STEPS Centre’s final year, in which the Centre is reflecting on 15 years of work on pathways to sustainability and exploring the theme of Methods – a key part of the Pathways Approach.

The STEPS website includes discussion events, examples, case studies and resources on the theme of Methods for anyone involved in research and decision-making on sustainability issues.

Find out more about the STEPS Centre’s Methods theme

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