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Organizing for Impact: Strategic Planning and Community Collaboration for Social Change towards Sustainable Consumption
A service learning approach in which students engage with community members on sustainable consumption topics. Students are challenged to critically appraise their ideas of how social change comes about and learn how to effectively operationalize sustainability projects.


By: Manisha Anantharaman and Suzanne Schmidt (both: Saint Mary’s College of California)

Session type: Multiple sessions, Undergraduate level, Medium size


  • Social change

  • Inequalities / social justice

  • Critical thinking

  • Learning from practitioners

  • Collective action/community engagement


Introduction to the teaching example:

In order to conceptualize and pursue sustainability, it is important to understand the societal factors that contribute to (un)sustainability, as well as the power- and social structures that support them. After conducting this research, students collaborate to construct community sustainability proposals while learning the fundamentals of project design, change management, and group-centered leadership. Their goal is to comprehend the strategic pathways that lead to sustainable consumption. As a result, they work to promote sustainability in the neighborhood by using theories of how to alter daily living and consumption in a manner that promotes listening and critical reflection. Students gain the ability to conceptualize environmental challenges as social matters (behavior, policy, economy) and to understand that social change is a long-term commitment.


Students collaborate in groups to work on a project with a community partner that addresses an actual need in the community. They invest considerable time in the neighborhood conducting interviews with key players, observing, and interacting with locals. Students use the Sierra Club Movement Organizing Manual as a framework to lead group action and social change as they build their projects. The process culminates in the creation of a strategic plan based on the students’ fieldwork that is presented t the community partner.

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