Mindfulness & Sustainability

The World has made enormous progress the last 15 years. Hunger has been cut in half, extreme poverty is down by nearly half, and more children are going to school and fewer are dying.

However, more effort is still needed. More than 800 million people around the world live on less than $1.25 US dollars a day, 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry every night, and over 200 million people don’t have jobs [1].

In September 2015, 193 countries committed themselves to addressing these global challenges over the next 15 years by adopting the Global Sustainable Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [2]. A sustainable future is one where everybody has enough food, is healthy, can work, and where living on less than $1.25 a day is a thing of the past.


Putting People at the Centre

Historically, world development has been a synonym of economic growth and a problem of local governments and international organisations such as the United Nations. The role of individuals as members of families, communities, organisations and countries has been reduced to how much money they have.

The 17 Global Goals represent a strategy to move forward away from purely economic growth [3]. The Global Agenda is the strongest acknowledgment that people are the real wealth of every nation and are at the centre of development. No economic growth or environmental progress is possible if people are getting sicker, if the richest are getting richer, and if natural resources are being wiped out. People are therefore the motor and focus of development.


Mindful Development

If people care about sustainable development, it greatly increases their chance of achieving it. However, it is impossible to do this whilst in a mindless state of mind. Our acting on autopilot and our daily worries often make it harder to take into account global concerns such as climate change, poverty, or inequality. Instead, our attention is likely to be drawn to the most salient personal problems. When this happens, caring for broad issues will probably be seen more as someone else’s problem.

Mindfulness can make a positive contribution to sustainable development. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement [4]. By practicing mindfulness our tendency to relate to our experiences in automatic ways is neutralized. The habitual and conventional interpretations are identified, acknowledged and then choices made that allow us to pursue new and more adaptive ways of seeing the world [5]. In this state, people become more aware, receptive to ideas and develop their ability to engage with their surroundings in a more focussed and
vibrant way.


Sustainable Development and Mindfulness Contribution

Sustainable development implies the implementation of strategies that help to meet the needs of the present, but without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs6. This means that everything we do needs to have a positive impact on people, on the planet, and on prosperityMindfulness has been subject to an increasing number of scientific studies.

The reported effects on people, such as increased wellbeing, value clarification, awareness, empathy, and compassion, could make a significant contribution to each dimension of sustainable development:

People: Mindfulness can help to ensure that all human beings are able to fulfil their potential in dignity and equality by:

Promoting mental and physical health and wellbeing [7]
Reducing unconscious bias and prejudice towards others [8]
Improving our interpersonal relations including our capacity to listen [9]
Building resilience, strengthening our capacity to recover and learn from the adversities we face in life [10]

Planet: Mindfulness can help to promote sustainable consumption, production, and resource management by:

Boosting ethical decision making [11]
Facilitating responsible consumption behaviours [12]
Supporting an eco-friendly lifestyle that includes reducing consumption, reusing and recycling [13]

Prosperity: Mindfulness can help to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives through economic participation and employment by:

Developing healthy workplaces [14]
Boosting innovative behaviours [15]
Facilitating organisational change and adaptation to challenges [16]
Improving educational outcomes for teachers and students [17]


Supporting Sustainability: Mindfulness Pillars

People’s goals and the pursuit of them are not always the result of conscious choices or deliberate thought. Instead, it is often the result of habits and past experiences. Mindfulness practice enhances people’s ability to pay attention to the present moment increasing their levels of awareness to their physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and the surrounding environment.

Living mindfully therefore means the cultivation of five elements which represent pillars for sustainable development:




1 UNDP (2015). Sustainable development goals. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

2 Anderson, M. (Sep. 2015) Ban Ki-moon: sustainable development goals ‘leave no one behind’. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/e4pZSP

3 UN (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015 (A/RES/70/1)

4 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003).Mindfulness-based Interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

5 Kudesia, R. (2015). Mindfulness and Creativity in the Workplace. In J. Reb & P. Atkins (Eds.), Mindfulness in Organisations: Foundations, Research, and Applications (pp. 190–2012). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6 World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

7 Brown, K., Ryan, R. & Creswell, J. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence for its Salutary Effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211–237.

8 Torres, N. (2014). Mindfulness mitigates biases you may not know you have. Harvard Business Review.

9 Burgoon, J., Berger, C. & Waldron, V. (2000). Mindfulness and interpersonal communication. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 105–127.

10 Thompson, R., Arnkoff, D. & Glass, C. (2011). Conceptualizing mindfulness and acceptance as components of psychological resilience to trauma. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 12(4), 220–235.

11 Ruedy, N. & Schweitzer, M. (2010). In the Moment: The Effect of Mindfulness on Ethical Decision Making. Journal of Business Ethics, 95, 73–87.

12 Ericson, T., Kjønstad, B., & Barstad, A. (2014). Mindfulness and sustainability. Ecological Economics, 104, 73–79.

13 Jacob, J., Jovic, E., & Brinkerhoff, M. (2009). Personal and planetary well-being: Mindfulness meditation, pro-environmental behaviour and personal quality of life in a survey from the social justice and ecological sustainability movement. Social Indicators Research, 93(2), 275–294.

14 Chaskalson, M. (2011). The Mindful Workplace: Developing Resilient Individuals and Resonant Organizations with MBSR. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

15 Capurso, V., Fabbro, F. & Crescentini, C. (2014). Mindfulness creativity: The influence of mindfulness meditation on creative thinking. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1–2.

16 Weick, K. (2006). Organizing for Mindfulness: Eastern Wisdom and Western Knowledge. Journal of Management Inquiry, 15(3), 275–287.

17 Meiklejohn, J. et al. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3, 291–307.

Mindfulness and Sustainability

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