by Victoria W. Thoresen*

Signs of despair, cynicism, hopelessness, and frustration are evident amongst young people around the globe. They are daily being bombarded with information about the deteriorating condition of the climate, the continuing destruction of the environment and the lack of initiatives to counteract the consequences of unsustainable development. Many have experienced these conditions themselves. Some schools have begun to recognize their responsibility to heighten awareness of the crucial need for more sustainable lifestyles. Courses related to education for sustainable development are becoming increasingly prevalent. Nonetheless, in many cases the focus remains on what has gone wrong rather than what is being done to improve the situation. Theoretical solutions tend to be presented more often than concrete examples of possible paths to follow.

LOLA, Looking for Likely Alternatives is a tool which assists teachers and students in identifying, investigating and making visible examples of sustainable lifestyle approaches in the very neighbourhoods where the students live. It is not only a learning event which takes place and then is past, but through the use of internet and by connecting with other students globally who are involved in similar processes, LOLA students also contribute to a wider process of making examples of social innovation known, thus giving added impetus to the potential for the initiatives to be recognized, adapted and used elsewhere.

The LOLA project provides an opportunity to progress beyond the common pedagogical use of case studies and project work, thereby providing a valuable supplement to such central resources as UNEP and UNESCO’s YouthXchange toolkit  , and the Marrakech Task Force and UNEP’s “Recommendations for Education for Sustainable Consumption: Here and Now” . It connects the work of teachers at several schools in a collective search for examples of universal value, thereby putting into action the goals of the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). It is a process of integrating initiatives dealing with “learning to learn” and “learning for a sustainable future” with initiatives concerned with learning to be a critical, aware, consumer citizen.

The LOLA project is a follow-up of the EMUDE (Emerging User Demand in Sustainable Solutions 2004-2006) research project which involved design schools from eight European countries in a process of collecting examples of social innovation. The designers went beyond mere reflection on the eco-design of goods, and began questioning larger systems related to everyday activities, focusing on peoples’ way of living as a whole, meeting creative communities and exploring new areas of social innovation. The initial outcomes of the EMUDE research project were presented at the second international conference of the Consumer Citizenship Network  by The Sustainable Everyday Project   in an exhibition. The reflections from the EMUDE experiences were discussed amongst the CCN partners within the context of education for sustainability and responsible consumption. These discussions lead to a consultation about how to adapt the EMUDE process so it could become a didactic activity for raising awareness about sustainability issues through the investigation of examples of social innovation. In addition to being able to review inspiring cases of sustainable solutions for daily living and possible alternatives to the mainstream way of living, the very process itself of investigating initiatives was considered to be a significant and new “hands-on” approach to learning about sustainable lifestyles. The process of “looking for likely alternatives” could highlight a pragmatic focus on day-to-day concerns, the proximity of initiatives located in the neighbourhood, the nature of investigation outside school walls, contact with the promoters of the initiatives who often evince strong social, ethical and environmental commitment, and discussion of the potential impacts of the initiatives.
Coming face to face with friends and neighbours who are actively involved in efforts towards sustainable lifestyles affects not only the knowledge base of students but influences attitudes and behaviour. LOLA has proven useful both in countries in Europe and Asia. LOLA is not an expensive set of learning materials. On the contrary, the toolkit is downloadable free from internet and while providing teachers with a framework and instruments it is flexible and adaptable to varying educational situations. LOLA takes the students into the “real world”, learning to discover constructive initiatives which have achieved identifiable results. Thus, LOLA contributes to fostering positive attitudes and concrete behaviour towards social innovation and sustainable lifestyles.

*Victoria W. Thoresen is Associate professor at the Hedmark University College, Norway and Project Manager of The Consumer Citizenship Network.