A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
September 8, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 1


Toward a Curriculum in Sustainability and the Environment

commentary by James Pushnik

In May 2005, as CSU, Chico’s Rawlins Professor of Environmental Literacy, I was one of 19 educators selected from 14 different nations as representatives to the first Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) Educators Seminar on Teaching Sustainability (ESTS) Conference in Braunwald, Switzerland. This conference was convened as an initial AGS event spurred by the United Nation’s declaration of 2005–2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

The hopeful vision put forth by the UN is that leading learning institutions will reorient themselves to integrate socioeconomic and environmental dimensions into the instruction of future citizens and global leaders. Implicit in this vision is that higher educational instruction by necessity must be of an interdisciplinary nature. The policy decisions of future generations striving toward sustainable societies will be complex.

The principle task for the Braunwald group was to identify the real and perceived challenges to integrating education for sustainability and sustainable development into higher education curricula. A roadblock to developing these crosscutting curricula is the lack of common definitions of sustainability education and its distinction from environmental education. An overarching question was, ”Does the inclusion of socioeconomic and geopolitical aspects of environmental issues alter the scientific nature of environmental education sufficiently to create a different area of intellectual inquiry?“

The definition of sustainability has implications for what should be taught, how it is taught, and how differing disciplines chose relevant content. During the conference, some unifying common themes emerged.

  1. Sustainable development curricula must directly confront the dynamic interface between the physical/biological, and socioeconomic environment.
  2. Such efforts should be integrated into all academic disciplines.
  3. Equality of human societies recognizes that our existence is connected with all other species.

There was a great deal of agreement among the representatives at Braunwald that the documented environmental collapse carries with it a perceived urgency to develop and implement alternatives to our present use of resources. It was also clear to the ESTS group that information from any single academic or national perspective alone cannot determine urgency for an environmental issue.

I returned with a challenge for a campuswide renaissance in the general education curriculum. I advocate the development of a new GE strand focused on producing environmentally literate citizen stewards.

It is with institutional pride that I can say that CSU, Chico, is currently in the vanguard of this exciting change in higher education. We must continue to push forward and seek ways to bring others along with us.