Our Common Future (aka The Brundtland Report, 1987) popularised the idea of ‘sustainable development’ as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Breaking with common conceptions at the time, this characterisation of sustainability argued that the “environment” was inextricably linked with social and individual realities; that making the world a better place must be a holistic project, not one that views global issues as residing in distinct environmental/social/economic/political spheres.
The concept of ‘intergenerational justice’ is central to modern approaches to sustainability. That is to say, our work in sustainability is driven by a sense that it is right and fair to do all we can to leave a healthy and hospitable planet after we’re gone. And education is at the heart of this.
NUS’s commitment to this ethos was recognised last year, when we won an international UNESCO award for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Sustainability is not the reserve of a few ‘specialists’. It is not just for geographers, for scientists, for international development practitioners; it is everyone’s concern, and everyone’s responsibility.
As such, we are launching a resource: ‘From Art to Zoo Management: embedding sustainability in UK higher and further education’ (#SustainabilityAtoZ). This document has been developed by the Department for Sustainability at NUS to showcase best practice in the incorporation of sustainability in a wide variety of courses.
The Criminology for a Just Society module at Canterbury Christ Church University, for example, considers ways of addressing environmental, social, economic and cultural injustice through critical criminology. The content reflects a critical criminology approach, highlighting the crimes of the powerful, and the potential for grassroots change. The course includes aspects of formal teaching, volunteering and critical reflection. Criminology integrates the theories, concepts and methods of other subjects, reflecting a commitment to interdisciplinarity, which is central to successful ESD.
Another intriguing example is Cornwall College’s foundation degree in Contemporary Storytelling and Performance. This innovative course is taught in partnership with the Eden Project and aims to foster performers who can help audiences reconnect with the natural world. Gemma Hughes from the Eden Project, says of the degree:
“Stories are the vessels by which cultures communicate and transmit ideas with each other and future generations. Through storytelling we get to explore new ideas, imagine different worlds, and test moral choices. All of this is fundamental to the sustainability agenda as it gives us the cultural or human context, to help us understand the weight of scientific experiments, big data, and complicated ideas associated with sustainability. The beauty of this course is it gives students the skills to effectively communicate these big and complicated ideas.”
Gemma Hughes, Eden Project
‘From Art to Zoo Management: embedding sustainability in UK higher and further education’ is an open resource for anyone wanting to learn more about ESD and how sustainability can be placed at the heart of any curriculum. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing key examples on social media with the hashtag #SustainabilityAtoZ. Do join the conversation, and add your own examples, opinions and experiences!