Sustainable wellbeing: linking the personal and the planetary

Stevens, Paul (2011). Sustainable wellbeing: linking the personal and the planetary. In: Mediating the Environment Change: Exploring the Way Forward, 4 Mar 2011, Bournemouth University.


Whether in the popular media or in academic teaching, wellbeing and environmental sustainability are often presented as separate issues. At best, sustainable practices are acknowledged as having some beneficial side-effects on wellbeing (e.g., less air pollution means less respiratory ailments); At worst, the two are presented as mutually exclusive (i.e., sustainability necessarily means a lower standard of living). But an argument can be made for an opposite view: That if we focus on being well, we will find that environmental sustainability emerges from that state. Although there is ongoing debate in the area, there is general agreement (OECD, 2005) that there are three broad areas of key competencies needed for humans to progress towards environmental sustainability: (1) The ability to use a wide range of interactive media to acquire, organise and interpret data; (2) Engagement with heterogenous groups; (3) Be able to act autonomously, managing life in meaningful and responsible ways. Current strategies tend towards the creation of favourable learning environments that help develop or acquire such competencies, yet at the same time, psychologists (Deci & Ryan, 2008) model wellbeing as that state which arises when individuals feel they have the qualities of competence, relatedness and autonomy. This suggests that intervention strategies aimed at improving wellbeing would also meet the goals of education for sustainability.

Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M., 2008. Hedonia, eudaimonia, and wellbeing – An introduction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 1-11.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies - Executive summary. Accessed 18th Feb 2011 from

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