When it comes to sustainability and related issues, many of us might feel hopeless and like there is nothing for us to do. This is, in part, due to the negative messaging around these challenges. Today’s guest, Dr. Leyla Acaroglu, has an entirely different way of thinking about these obstacles. Not only is it imbued with hope, but it draws on systems thinking and holistic views of sustainability to show that change is possible. Leyla is a sociologist, Founder of the UnSchool of Disruptive Design, a UNEP Champion of the Earth, and the Founder of the CO Project Farm, a unique educational ecotourism property in Portugal.

In this episode, Leyla talks about circularity and why we need to move away from the linear, exploitative economy that currently exists. We hear how starting UnSchool was a rebellion against the mainstream education she had spent all of her academic life in, and she shares some of the provocative design frameworks they teach at UnSchool. Leyla acknowledges that change is slow, and by using a systems thinking lens, people are better able to understand their actions as related to much broader contexts. She talks about how this way of viewing the world keeps her hope alive, along with the importance of acknowledging our agency and actions, and the changes we can make in our immediate worlds. Check out the full episode at one of the links below for more on Leyla’s worldview, positivity, and zeal for a better world.

The conversation took place live on Clubhouse under the Impact Everywhere Club. See upcoming conversations here!

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Key Points From This Episode

The current linear economy is problematic because it is based on the extraction and exploitation of nature and results in waste that also harms the natural world. At both ends of the linear spectrum, there is room for the loop to be closed.

Sustainable design encompasses more than just material choices. It is concerned with considering the whole-life environmental impact of a product, so it draws on life cycle assessment and systems thinking.

The two massive systems at play in the economy are the force of the market and how it incentivizes behavior. As consumers, we drive demand, so when we make different decisions, companies respond to them.

Changing an organization from within is different from building one from the ground up. The UnSchool provides participants with tools on how to move the needle in existing organizations. By mapping systems dynamics, they can understand the limitations, opportunities, points of interventions, and how to use their agency.

The Anatomy of Action concept Leyla and her team designed for the United Nations Environment Program that helped people embrace a more sustainable lifestyle is based on five categories: food, stuff, move, money, and fun. These are five areas everyone makes lifestyle decisions in.


“The linear economy is very much based on this idea that we live in a world where we as humans can dominate nature and take what we want and not really have to deal with the consequence.” — @LeylaAcaroglu [0:03:46]

“Sustainable design is about figuring out how to understand the way we produce goods and services so that they can meet human needs in more socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable ways.” — @LeylaAcaroglu[0:06:58]

“One of the reasons I created the UnSchool was because I wanted to create the school that I wanted to go to at 19 or 20 that would have helped me develop a career as a creative change maker.” — @LeylaAcaroglu [0:13:09]

“A lot of the time, people resist change because they’re concerned or fearful of the unknown, and they’re worried that it’s going to affect their position or standing or disrupting the status quo, is completely confronting for a lot of people. So, you have to create the environment that enables people to see an alternative future.” — @LeylaAcaroglu [0:18:58]

“It’s through the act of actually participating in the world in a different way, being open and flexible to that diversity and that dynamics that you can create any of the expansion in your sphere of influence so that the people around you do get that contagious desire to themselves affect change.” — @LeylaAcaroglu [0:35:14]

“If we believe that it’s only those with power who have the capacity to make the change in the world that we need to see, then we give up our agency to make changes in our own lives.” — @LeylaAcaroglu [0:47:08]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode

Benjamin Von Wong
Impact Everywhere
Leyla Acaroglu
Leyla Acaroglu on Twitter
The UnSchool of Disruptive Design
CO Project Farm
Champions of the Earth — UNEP
Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore TED Talk
Emma Segal
James Lovelock