Sustainability on the Wall

    Well into our second year of Corona-induced isolation, many of us seem to be finding solace in online education. Once the realm of introverts, price-conscious learners, and overzealous careerists with more ambitions than time on their hands, online courses have finally and irreversibly gone mainstream. Even those hoity-toity business schools are getting to grips with online learning, reported FT earlier this week. 

    For sustainability nerds, embracing the concept has always been a no-brainer. After all, digital delivery not only quashes concerns over the carbon footprint of all those travelling students and instructors, it is also rightfully hailed for democratising the learning experience. Hence covering both the ‘E’ and the ‘S’ in the short alphabet of sustainability.  

    So, what better way to pass a few rainy spring hours of your free time than by joining an online course, preferably one about sustainability? There is certainly no lack of options available. Some of them are free of charge, others – considerably less so, some are just lightly entertaining, others – rigorously academic and rather demanding. Almost too many options, you might object. Anyone familiar with modern psychology knows that a dramatic explosion in choice can paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution[1].

    Refusing to succumb to the paradox of choice, I lately find myself binging on online sustainability courses. Moreover, I seem to have become a veritable certificate junkie. My personal best, so far, is gaining three ESG certificates in a single week! I won’t challenge you to beat the record, though. I know that few would share my nerdy obsession. 

    Meanwhile, apart from the obvious benefit of learning a thing or two, I have also managed to gather several observations. Observations, mind you, and not conclusions. It is an ongoing experiment. 

    For one, I now understand, more than ever, why everyone keeps complaining about the lack of standardisation in the field of sustainability. Admittedly, it is an evolving area of knowledge. Still, the inability to agree on some basic definitions is staggering at times. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as confusing had I chosen a less promiscuous course of learning, keeping to one source of knowledge rather than engaging in a “contrast-and-compare” exercise. Come to think of it, it might make the final tests, before gaining those precious certificates, less challenging too. 

    My appreciation for specific examples and exercises, drawn from real-life, has grown exponentially. The monotonous language of policy documents, studded with abbreviations and obscure terms, is too much to digest even for a word-nerd as me, after a while. 

    To grasp any new concept and store it into our brains for later use, we need concrete examples and interactive situations. Even if some online self-paced programs succeed somewhat better than others at providing relevant examples and engaging their students, this aspect of teaching is where they most apparently fall short. What use is it to spend however many hours flicking through slides if all will soon be forgotten?

    And then there is the ultimate challenge. Now that plastering the walls of a seldom-visited office is not viable option, what am I to do with all those flashy certificates?  



    [1] Online psychology courses where you can learn more about this phenomenon are abundant and extremely popular, or you can just read The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, by American psychologist Barry Schwartz

    Picture credit: NordSIP / Envato / Julia Axelsson

    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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