Sustainable Futures: The Future We Hope For

Sustainable Futures: The Future We Hope For describes a sustainable future in which we use renewable resources, create new ways of working together that are inclusive, open and transparent and are shaped by shared visions for social and climate justice, and difference and diversity.  

In a series of three posts we will outline the three scenarios which we produced in the COVID-19 Recovery Scenarios for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North project in partnership with the Inner Northern Local Learning and Employment Network (IN-LLEN)

This is the scenario that we hope for in the face of what may seem like overwhelming challenges. In this scenario, key stakeholders at the international, national, state and local levels work collaboratively to achieve sustainable futures. At first glance, these futures may appear overly ‘optimistic’, but they are possible and recognisable futures that need to be acknowledged if we are to achieve them. 

The Climate and Biodiversity Crises, and the Economy

In this scenario, international, national, state and local agencies and communities implement what have been termed ‘green recovery plans and projects’ – though in different places these mean different things, from the Australian Greens long standing policies, to a Democrat sponsored Green New Deal proposal in the US, and the EU’s Green Deal.[1] Many governments are implementing green recovery plans, funding projects designed to stimulate economic growth and accelerate decarbonization.[2] As the world approaches 1.5°C of warming, organisations and businesses that embrace the challenge will secure their future, improve their capacity to create long term value for all stakeholders, and be well-placed to capture an innovation opportunity.[3] These recovery plans are designed to stimulate growth and accelerate decarbonisation and re-commit to the efforts required to meet the Paris Agreement.

The OECD – in its report on Biodiversity and the economic response to COVID-19: Ensuring a green and resilient recovery – suggests that governments adopt a number policies to ‘integrate biodiversity considerations into the COVID-19 recovery plans, and drive the transformative changes needed to halt and then reverse biodiversity loss’. These include things such as:

  • Ensure that COVID-19 economic recovery measures do not compromise biodiversity
  • Scale up investment in biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and restoration
  • Put a price on biodiversity loss
  • Foster cross-sectoral and international collaboration.[4]

In many of these initiatives young people are identified as key stakeholders in the imagining and implementation of these sustainable futures:[5]

Young people are central to this mission…the EGD promises 1) the development of a competence framework for teaching on environment and sustainability in schools; 2) financial resources, to improve sustainability in the built environments and operations of schools…; 3) and an updated Skills Agenda and Youth Guarantee to ensure young people are equipped for the transition from declining industry, into the green economy.[6]

In this scenario Australia makes significant progress in meeting key targets in relation to UN SDG 8 to Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. At national, state and local levels, a limited version of a Green New Deal drives innovation and creation of a greater number of decent, more secure jobs, and more just ‘flexible’ or ‘gig’ work practicesFor example, new business models are emerging to provide specialised services to meet the unique needs of gig workers: EY’s analysis found that funds invested in banking for gig economy workers rocketed by almost 6500% in 2019.[7]

Education, Training and Well-being

International agencies and bodies such as UNESCO, the OECD, the UN Secretariat, and the EU, have laid out various, ambitious, visions for education futures post COVID. Many of these offer a glimpse of possible futures for education that are more inclusive of diversity, and of education re-imagined as a public good that drives collective prosperity and justice for all young people. UNESCO’s vision outlines nine (9) ideas for what it calls ‘concrete action’:

  1. Commit to strengthen education as a common good. Education is a bulwark against inequalities. In education as in health, we are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes.
  2. Expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information. The Commission calls for a global public discussion—that includes, among others, learners of all ages—on ways the right to education needs to be expanded.
  3. Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the COVID-19 crisis, with those systems most engaged with families and communities showing the most resilience. We must encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively.
  4. Promote student, youth and children’s participation and rights. Intergenerational justice and democratic principles should compel us to prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.
  5. Protect the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education. The school as a physical space is indispensable. Traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’ but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning must be preserved.
  6. Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
  7. Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum. This is the right time for deep reflection on curriculum, particularly as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation.
  8. Protect domestic and international financing of public education. The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances. National governments, international organizations, and all education and development partners must recognize the need to strengthen public health and social services but simultaneously mobilize around the protection of public education and its financing.
  9. Advance global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. COVID-19 has shown us the extent to which our societies exploit power imbalances and our global system exploits inequalities. The Commission calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multilateralism, together with a revitalized global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its core.

As UNESCO suggests:

COVID-19 presents us with a real challenge and a real responsibility. These ideas invite debate, engagement and action by governments, international organizations, civil society, educational professionals, as well as learners and stakeholders at all levels.[8]

In this scenario Australia makes significant progress towards meeting key targets in the UN SDG 4 to Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2025At the federal and state level, policy makers, for example, shift the focus from the ‘deficits’ of individual First Nations’ young people, and target education reform in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, and professional development for teachers. They support the YACVic recommendation to address existing and increasing racism — both individual and structural — by building on the Victorian Government’s Anti-Racism Action Plan and committing to working with young people to lead social cohesion.[9]

Youth strategies – at various levels – are inclusive and diverse in their vision and application and focused on reforming the systems that children and youth access to better support them. They are increasingly framed within a decolonising paradigm to support all children and youth regardless of their cultural context.[10]

Youth strategies recognise that education, training and employment pathways will look different for different young people, at different times (boom, recession), in different places (inner city, outer urban, regional and rural), and in relation to different labour market opportunities. Governments, communities, businesses, schools and NGOs create new models of education, training and employment pathways that acknowledge and account for these relationships. 

The number of young people suffering from mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and self-harm remains a major challenge, however the innovations from telehealth promise to produce higher quality, more accessible health and education services for young people. In this future governments also recognise that ‘The ongoing mental health emergency can be mitigated by ensuring young people have access to free, appropriate and evidence-based mental health supports and care.’[11] This includes, increasing service capacity, support digital and online youth mental health services, education and employment supports, and support for families.

The Inner North

In this sustainable futures scenario, young people, supported by stakeholders, co-design innovative approaches to education and sustainable livelihoods. For example, young people, and stakeholders in partnership with universities, co-design an assessment framework and metrics system that demonstrates and reflects a more inclusive response to the final years of secondary schooling. In this scenario, stakeholders actively listen and give voice to diverse groups of young people on what’s important to them and are committed to the process of co-design. Local organisations, businesses, and NGOs in the inner north work with young people in schools to test and refine an environmentally responsible business model, and build an integrated, sustainable collaboration and partnership between education and local stakeholders for developing social enterprises for structured workplace learning in schools. 

This coordinated response leads to opportunities for potential part time work for transitional experiences in social enterprises and partnership opportunities for young people to build social enterprises in their local community. Local stakeholder, community-based accelerators emerge to enable young people to participate in building a New Economy Business Model – a model that draws on templates from various New Green Deal proposals:

‘I think there is a bit of a shift in the way local government, state government, hopefully federal government; that people are thinking about, about values generally and what matters. I think the pandemic has revealed some great fissures and some great cracks and some great issues and inequities. And I’m hoping that we don’t bounce back. I hope we bounce forward into a different reality where people are willing to be more mindful and willing to pay for the externalities like pollution and like paying for water and paying for things that actually come at a cost and similarly paying for fair employment and paying for fair opportunities and inclusion for young people.’ 

Kate Barelle, Co-founder, STREAT Social Enterprise.

In this sustainable futures scenario, organisations audit local environmental issues and workshop and invest in youth-led solutions. Councils provide grants and support young people to tackle glocal climate concerns. Organisations work with local businesses to identify and solve commercial environmental issues. Through access to mentors with a background in sustainability, schools and the broader community use the Vocational Mentoring Exchange to expand the thinking of the young people they support. 

Community organisations also give young people opportunities to develop and deliver their own climate emergency activities and this work is promoted in the inner north. Young people are provided with information, training, and resources around climate activism. Organisations create a Climate Emergency Working Group that is led by a young staff member to work in an identified area with other young people dedicated to tacking climate change. This working group helps shape and form government policy to better address the climate emergency:

‘If we were to think more creatively around setting up local accords so that we have agreements and incentives, the way they must demonstrate the outcome. If you were given a government tax incentive for something, did you actually create new jobs? Are there ways we can keep local profits in local communities so that it is the last time there was a lot of workers coming from that from outside our region into the jobs and to retain local employment? The income from those jobs gets spent in our local community that that there is a preference for tendering and work that is delivered within communities experiencing disadvantage. Can we just be more creative around using our own resources to retain income and opportunity? And there are some really interesting examples from particularly from the UK around delivering up locally.’ 

Melanie Raymond, Chair Youth Projects.

Many young people across the inner north expressed their hope for a sustainable future in 2025. These hopes are for more inclusive forms of education, gender diversity in politics, increased corporate and political responsibility for inequalities and crisis, and protection and support for marginalised populations of young people. Chloe, for example, advocated for the development of new systems to replace the ATAR.

‘I feel like opportunities are opening up for more neuro-diverse worlds, which is nice as we kind of realise how ineffective schooling is. Once we actually have to focus on it as something important going on in society and it’s getting more attention…The discussion of erasing the ATAR is pretty exciting. I think because I’m doing underscore VCE, I feel a little bit jibbed.’ 

Chloe, 16, Brunswick

Lucy argued for more representation from young people and diverse groups in the political system. 

‘Politics. I hope that in five years…there is more youth represented in politics. I think it’s super important because it’s our future that we’re going to be living and leading. So, I think it’s really important that there’s youth representation in politics. And I’d also like to see more females represented in politics. I think that if you look at the moment at New Zealand and what Jacinda Ardern is doing, I’d like to see something similar to that reflected in Australian politics.’ 

Lucy, 18, Fairfield

Young people are searching for innovative approaches to address ‘wicked’ problems and in finding solutions for sustainable futures in the inner north. In this scenario, opportunities and support are presented to young people to actively contribute and advocate for their futures in meaningful ways that move beyond a tokenistic response.

This scenario for sustainable futures offers a glimpse of the ‘possible’ in what may seem like an uncertain and possibly chaotic present. The future we hope for needs stakeholders to work with young people at multiple levels (local, state, and federal) in imaginative, creative, and cooperative ways, to produce ethical innovation. 


[2] EY Megatrends 2020 and Beyond (p. 23).

[3]EY Megatrends 2020 and Beyond (p. 23)




[7]The Youth Affairs Council of Australia (YACVIC) (2020, p. 16) COVID-19 Recovery Plan for Young People

[8] UNESCO, Education in a Post COVID World: Nine Ideas for Public Action, pp.5-6 

[9]EY Megatrends 2020 and Beyond (p. 60).

[10] YACVIC (2020, p. 20)

[11]The Youth Affairs Council of Australia (YACVIC) (2020, p. 16) COVID-19 Recovery Plan for Young People


By Peter Kelly

I am a Professor of Education at Deakin University.

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