Sustainability and Academia

The definition of sustainability produced by the Brundtland Commission, “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” is well known. Different understandings and characterizations of sustainability have emerged from the academic world, many of which concede that it involves the re-orientation of society by raising questions about different possible social trajectories.

One facet of sustainability is thinking locally; for example the focus on food systems and mitigation strategies for climate change impacts. Just as each locality must be studied as a unique place, with no general prescription for “how to all solve problems now,” so must each academic discipline and each person devise ways to look upon their field of study through the lens of sustainability.

Stephen Sterling suggests going beyond educating about sustainability (students as passive consumers) to educating for sustainability (students learning for change) and education as sustainability (students involved in creative, participative practice.)

The following information is intended to offer background on sustainability and higher education, and provide a few suggestions for further investigation.

Learn More

  • The Piedmont Project at Emory University: A curriculum development project that seeks to foster an invigorated intellectual community to address global issues and local environmental awareness.
  • The Biomimicry Institute:  Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems. Explore the growing list of academic institutions that are integrating biomimicry into their teaching and research programs.
  • AASHE Curriculum Guide: Provides examples of academic programs, syllabi, and courses (see here for information on how to access secure AASHE content.)

What’s Happening in Higher Education?

Selected Bibliography

Contact a UIC Peer:

Faculty interested in joining the growing interdisciplinary network of UIC faculty engaged in sustainability-related research are encouraged to contact David Wise, Associate Director of the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy.

UIC’s Binding Agreements

Multimedia Resources for Your Class

Consumerism & Negative Extranalities: Pricey Bargains  (youtube video)

Consumerism & Life Cycle Analysis: The Story of Stuff (youtube video)

Selected Research Opportunities