Benefits of Integral Sustainability in Higher Education - a blog on the academic course “Integral Leadership for Sustainability” at Wageningen University in the Netherlands

By: Anouk Brack

Take the tour

The purpose of this article is to show readers around in our master course “Integral Leadership for Sustainability” at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. This course is an example of how an integral approach can be applied in higher education to achieve both a higher level of understanding of complex issues as well as create sustainable action in the world.



Why this course is needed

The main reason for offering this course is to bring empowered action into academia. In many courses during their program students encounter lots of knowledge about how complex our worldwide sustainability challenges are. But usually those courses focus on critically assessing past projects, explaining how complex it all is and highlighting what went wrong with “solutions” in the past. The students acquire a nearly overwhelming amount of knowledge and perspectives about the complexity and enormous scale of the issues that face humanity, accompanied by a quite critical attitude towards the merits of others’ efforts to contribute.


That’s a great recipe for enhancing depression and apathy in our future leaders.


The remedy for these pacifying sentiments lies in this course’s focus on executing an actual sustainability leadership project. This course cultivates informed action in students using a combination of offering an integral meta-perspective to sustainability, and enhancing their motivation to act. They design, execute and reflect on a project of 8 hours engagement that lies at the center of these three intersections: Competence, Challenge and Cause in the world.



Course program unveiled

The course consists of a 40 hour workload spread over 8 weeks. It starts with 3 weekly afternoon sessions in the first weeks and ends with one session in week 8 where students present their “1-day sustainability project”; how it went and what they learned from it. This project is at the core of the course. All sessions, lectures, exercises and reading are designed towards coming up with, designing and executing the project successfully.


To inform the shaping and successful execution of their project we offer only a few required readings and lots of optional reading and video material.

  • a chapter from Leadership Agility to offer them a developmental perspective both in Stage and Skill development,
  • an article about the Eco-selves, to show how these stages in peoples development show up as differing worldviews with regards to sustainability and how we need to adapt our communication if we want to get our message across or even involve people in our initiative.
  • an article about Dialogic Leadership. This framework shows us different styles (types) of interaction in the moment that can be used more consciously and that can help to get the most out of the potential of every communication. 
  • Next to that we practice Leadership Embodiment (state training) in class in order to show up more present and focused on the connection to others and the goal of the interaction and be less distracted by our personality’s worries.
  • And of course lots of interaction and peer advice and support.


Examples of student’s 1-day sustainability projects:

  1. To bake and hand out cupcakes to people on the street asking them to whom they would like to give this cupcake and why. This project created waves of gratitude.
  2. To go back to former high school and teach interactively about climate change
  3. Upgrade waste recycling system at their own student building and involve other students in it
  4. To create an edible garden and offer workshops about which wild plants can be eaten
  5. To teach fellow international student how to ride a bike because it is invaluable way of moving around in the Netherlands and it gives students a sense of accomplishment, integration and security.
  6. To redesign the Dutch bag for collecting recyclable plastics to now indicate what should go in it, instead of only indicating what can’t.


In conclusion

The course Integral Leadership for Sustainability attracts smart, critical and world-centric students and cultivates in them a sense of personal passion, possibility and the power to make a positive contribution.



For more information contact Anouk Brack at

Anouk Brack, MSc in Biology, teaches courses in Sustainability Leadership, Intuitive Intelligence, and Facilitating Innovative Learning Processes at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and is the co-director of Experience Integral, a foundation for cultivating embodied leadership for sustainability.



Links to used frameworks:

1) Leadership Agility:

2) Eco-selves:

3) Dialogic Leadership:

4) Leadership Embodiment:



Attachment: How we speak to students

Below you find two excerpts from the course guide to give you a felt sense of how we explain the purpose and approach of this course to students.



‘The significant problems we have cannot be solved

at the same level of thinking with which we created them.’

Albert Einstein


In this course, students will take a step to being agents of change in a world that needs rethinking of existing patterns towards a system that is more environmentally, socially and economically just. The course aims to be transformative by combining head, hands and heart: integrating theory, practice and personal reflection. It is directed towards inspired students who want to invest in the evolution of themselves, their direct community, and wider planet. They are expected to thoroughly examine their own worldviews, beliefs and behaviour, inquire into other paradigms, and use the knowledge and skills acquired to actually design and implement a personal challenge aimed to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.


Integrated goal of this course: Students will be more inclined to make the change they wish to see in the world by first thinking twice about the implications of that change and then to act wholeheartedly, dedicated towards creating impact for good.



In this course, we want to challenge you to look at yourself with honest and courageous eyes to figure out how YOU could contribute to the small and large changes society needs in times of turbulence. Our role is to support you in this with appropriate resources and tools, and an open ear for your process. We realise that the very limited scope and timeframe of this course cannot lead to miracles; but on the other hand, every change starts with small steps. A wise teacher from India used to say: ”Be realistic, plan a miracle”.

The central topic of this course is leadership! We will use the conceptual framework of Leadership Agility by Joiner & Josephs (2007) to guide you in discovering your leadership strengths and weaknesses and your opportunities for development. Because we are looking at leadership in the context of sustainable development, which is a very complex topic, we are also introducing you to Integral Theory and the AQAL framework developed by the American philosopher Ken Wilber. This framework is a useful tool for looking at both Sustainability and Leadership in an inclusive way, in order to ensure that a broad range of factors are considered in designing a sustainability initiative.

In addition to these theoretical foundations, we also want to provide you with some opportunities to develop a more expansive meta-perspective on yourself and others around you, which you can use to develop your group facilitation skills and reflect on your personal development and growth trajectory.

The core of this course is your personal leadership challenge that we ask you to design and implement. This project can naturally only be of limited scope - we estimate about one day of implementation - but we expect you to be creative in coming up with a personal challenge that touches you, develops your leadership skills, and can contribute, even in a small way, to sustainable development.

Throughout the course, you will be working with a small peer group to reflect, gain other people’s insights on your challenge, and support each other to be better leaders.

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