A monthly commentary by Mark Stemen and Jim Pushnik
Sustainability has been a buzzword on campus lately. You hear it in campus reports, in titles of conferences, integrated into master plans, proposed as strategic goals, and it is now the name of a campus house. Rarely do you hear it defined. In the spirit of starting a conversation rather than ending one, we offer some thoughts on the term sustainability.
Early on in planning for the sustainability conference held last fall, the steering committee wrestled with an organizing theme. Sustainability was a popular topic, but what exactly does it mean? None of us could really articulate it, but we knew it was a change in direction. So we decided to call the conference “This Way to Sustainability,” and use the road sign as our central design. We knew we had to get off the current path, and that we were headed somewhere. The recent conference continued that theme under the title “Toward Sustainability.” Sustainability is a direction as much as a destination, a process as much as a product.
The most common definition of a sustainable society is one that meets its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Stated in such vague terms, sustainability is often described as unachievable. The incentive? Being unsustainable is not an option.
Sustainability is not just a new name for environmentalism; it is about charting our new direction toward an ecologically, economically, and socially just world. Sustainability is not a greener version of business as usual. Achieving sustainability will require us to fundamentally rethink the economy and society itself. As such, sustainability is not against economic development, but it must engage the economy to move in new directions. Creating an economy that can flourish within the ecological limits of our planet requires active participation from every sector of society.
In this effort, education is key. More than anything, sustainability is about reenvisioning the human place in the world, and to do this, we must rethink what we teach. To that end, we invite you to join us in a curriculum workshop on Friday, March 10. Geoffrey Chase, co-author of Sustainability on Campus, will lead an all-day workshop that will help faculty integrate sustainability into one of their courses. Contact Regional and Continuing Education for registration details.
We would like to leave you with this thought—Trend Is Not Destiny. Many in the sustainability movement have noted that the Chinese language is remarkable for its ability to combine characters for other words into a new word. The Chinese word for crisis, for example, contains both the words danger and opportunity. While many voices in the news focus on the current danger, much of the activity on campus is about exploring the opportunities of sustainability. We support them. While things might look bleak, they do not have to continue. We can have hope. We can live differently. Trend is not destiny.