Utilizing a sustainability lens provides an opportunity for students to examine the interconnectivity of issues in our complex world. Sustainability specifically looks at the interconnectivity of three systems, environment, society, and economy. Each of these systems affect one another and if we do not think systemically, we will create negative undesired effects in other parts of the system. The field of sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary and values diverse perspectives to co-create solutions to current sustainability issues. (Further description of sustainability can be found in What is sustainability?)
A sustainability lens provides an opportunity to analyze solutions and challenge the dominant paradigm of ‘business as usual’ that perpetuates environmental degradation and human injustice for the benefit of capitalism. Sustainability pedagogy provides an opportunity for individual and social transformation that at its best alters human existence for a new paradigm to understand the world.
Sustainability education introduces students to ‘wicked problems,’ which are issues that are confusing, where people involved have conflicting values, where problems are linked and interact with others, and are difficult to resolve (Ackoff, 1974; Churchman, 1967; Waddock, 2011; Waddock, 2013). These wicked problems are found throughout society and challenge students to think deeply about the world and potential solutions to complex global challenges.
Sustainability is scalable, which provides an opportunity to analyze local sustainability challenge at a micro level to understand global issues at a macro level. This scaling nests the local system within the global system and highlights the interconnectivity of the world and the complexity of sustainability issues. Providing local examples assists students in contextualizing an issue in a place they are connected and are empowered to create change. Offering a global sustainability challenge that students cannot directly engage with can be overwhelming and defeating for learners.
Sustainability principles can be incorporated into any career. Complex local and global sustainability challenges require knowledge from all fields including health care, business, urban planning, biology, political science , education, and sociology to name a few. Core components of sustainability pedagogy are transferrable and beneficial across disciplines, are a critical component of vocational identity, and lead to an increase in civic-mindedness throughout an individual’s life.
Further information about sustainability can be found at What is sustainability. For additional resources to incorporate sustainability pedagogy into your syllabi including integral principles of building a sustainability mindset see Why sustainability pedagogy and articles for including sustainability.
The Sustainability Mindset is defined as “a way of thinking and being that results from a broad understanding of the ecosystem’s manifestations, from social sensitivity, as well as an introspective focus on one’s personal values and higher self, and finds it’s expression in actions for the greater good of the whole” (Kassel et al., 2018, p. 7). Building a students’ sustainability mind involves conceptualizing sustainability issues and systems thinking as well as awareness of self and connection to the world. Sustainability pedagogy provides a framework centered on thinking and being - to strengthening a students’ emotional intelligence, providing the opportunity to reflect on one’s passions and purpose. Faculty facilitate students’ educational journey in exploring and building their sustainability mind. Educators must look past simply content knowledge to incorporate the holistic student including their social and emotional learning as an integral component of education.
If educators focus only on students’ understanding of the content, and in sustainability this typically involves highlighting the severity of environmental and human inequities, students can face eco-grief, anxiety, and feel disempowered. Centering student’s emotions as an equal component to content provides students an opportunity to build emotional and spiritual intelligence. Students will also realize their peers share similar feelings and experience connection with classmates as they discuss sustainability challenges and co-create new vision for the world. Centering this experience in a local example empowers students to realize they can make a difference in their community, taking students from grief to active participants in change.
The sustainability mindset framework provides principals that faculty can use to assist students in the path from grief to change agents. The sustainability mindset principles as seen in Figure 1 are: Ecological worldview, systems thinking, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence. These areas are explored in greater depth in Why sustainability pedagogy and can be found in their entirety in The Sustainability Mindset Principles: A Guide to Developing a Mindset for a Better World by Isabel Rimanoczy.
Figure 1: Sustainability Mindset Principles by Isabel Rimanoczy
Sustainability and the sustainability mindset principles can be incorporated into your current curriculum or utilized to develop a new class using the Burns model for sustainability pedagogy. The sustainability mindset principles provide the ‘why’ for sustainability education, while The Burns models provides the ‘how.’ The Burns Model, pulled from Teaching for transformation: (Re)Designing sustainability courses based on ecological principles as seen in Figure 3, takes educators through a process of reflection to intentionally (re)design their syllabus to incorporate sustainability pedagogy. Further guiding questions for (re)designing your syllabus can be found in Why sustainability pedagogy.
The Burns Model of sustainability pedagogy
This collection of sustainability resources serves to assist you in the process of incorporating sustainabilty into your syllabi. This collection is not exhaustive: It is a living document and new resources will be added periodically. To submit a new resource please email Jamie Valentine @ email@example.com.
Sustainability course offerings can be found in a variety of departments and can enrich local and global civic connections of disciplinary content to any career path. Classes are listed as either sustainability-focused or sustainability-related depending on the depth of content in the specific course. Sustainability-focused has more emhpasis on sustainability than sustainability-related.