Definition of Sustainability

jacarandaSustainability is a dynamic process that recognizes, promotes, and protects the intrinsic value and equitable endurance of natural and human systems in the present and the future. As a dynamic process, sustainability becomes the unifying characteristic of decision-making about and processes of production, consumption, resource use, waste, and ecological systems.

“Sustainability-focused” courses concentrate on sustainability, including its social, economic and environmental dimensions, or examine an issue or topic using sustainability as a lens. The courses provide valuable grounding in the concepts and principles of sustainability.

To be sustainability focused the majority (50% or more) of the course content (e.g., readings, papers, tests, discussion or other assignments) must focus on at least one of the 13 sustainability criteria listed below.

“Sustainability-related” courses include sustainability as a course component or module, or concentrate on a specific sustainability principle or issue. The courses help build knowledge about a component of sustainability or introduce students to sustainability concepts during part of the course.

To be sustainability-related at least 25% of the course content (e.g., readings, papers, tests, discussion or other assignments) must focus on at least one of the 13 sustainability criteria listed below.

Sustainability Criteria

1) Sustainability as a concept: the history, politics, culture and science of ideas of sustainability and sustainable development.

2) Natural limits: the relationship between human population and lifestyle in relation to the finite capacity of natural ecosystems (including the global ecosystem) to provide for human needs.

3) Maintaining ecosystems: Natural resource conservation science and practices to maintain the integrity of ecosystems in the face of rising human demands.

4) Business and economics: Re-shaping market conditions to address “market failures” with respect to the environment and to provide incentives for businesses and economic systems to better maintain the integrity of ecosystems.

5) Social capacity: The social factors that support behavioral shifts (including but not limited to economic choices) necessary to enable and encourage societies to live in ways compatible with maintaining the long-term integrity of ecosystems.

6) Social equity: The mutual interactions between social inequality and environmental degradation, including theories of social reforms required to ensure an environmentally healthy and socially just society.

7) Sustainability discourse: The framing and discussion of environmental sustainability in the media, politics, and everyday life.

8) Culture, religion, and ethics: How culture, religion, and ethics—from consumerism to environmental stewardship—shape human behavior toward the natural world.

9) Governance: How legal frameworks and policies shape human behavior toward the natural world.

10) Science and Technology: The role of basic science and technology (broadly and individual technologies) specifically in influencing human impacts on the natural world.

11) Planning and design: Concepts and techniques from urban, regional, and rural planning and/or building design and/or product design that can influence human impacts on the environment and environmental impacts on humans.

12) Sustainability science: The new field of sustainability science that specifically attempts to build interdisciplinary perspectives from the themes (and related academic disciplines) listed above to promote human-environmental balance.

13) Other emerging fields and topics relevant to sustainability.

*This list of sustainability criteria was adapted from Weber State University and University of Oregon’s STARS Curriculum Definitions.