"[M]odern industries still operate according to paradigms that developed when humans had a very different sense of the world" (McDonough and Braungart 26) - when resources were thought to be infinite. In 1972 the UN convened the Conference on the Human Environment where "the global community acknowledged that more exploration was needed of the inter-relationships between the environment and socio-economic issues of poverty and underdevelopment. Thus the concept of sustainable development emerged in the 1980s in response to a growing realizasion of the need to balance economic and social progress with concern for the environment and the stewardship of natural resources" ("Education," par. 2).
The concept of sustainability has since permeated the globe. It is integrated within curricula or used to refer to "green" campus initiatives at numerous international and national universities, including: Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Arizona State University, UMass Lowell (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production), UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Alaska Anchorage, George Washington University, and Colombia. MIT is part of an international partnership called the Alliance for Global Sustainability. Created in 1997, the Alliance "brings together hundreds of university scientists, engineers, and social scientists to address complex issues that lie at the intersection of environmental, economic and social goals" ("Alliance").
In 1999 Dow Jones launched Sustainability Indexes, which are "the first global indexes tracking the financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide" ("Dow"). By 2002, at the UN Johannesburg Summit, social justice and poverty were recognized as "key principles to development that is sustainable. The human and social aspects of sustainable development meant that solidarity, equity, partnership and cooperation were as crucial as scientific approaches to environmental protection" ("Education," par. 6).
At the 2002 Summit, the United Nations General Assembly declared years 2005-2014 the Decade for Education for Sustainable Development "as a way of signalling that education and learning lie at the heart of approaches to sustainable development" ("Education," par. 6). According to the UN Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), "Improving the quality of education and reorienting its goals to recognize the importance of sustainable development must be one of UNESCO's and the world's highest priorities" ("Education," par. 10).
The Association of University Leaders for Sustainable Development, whose mission is to "make sustainability a major focus of teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities worldwide" ("About"), has partnered with the International Association of Universities and UNESCO.
"The rationale for the partnership is the consensus that higher education must play a central role within the overall process of achieving sustainable development The partners are convinced that the leaders of higher education institutions and their academic colleagues in all disciplines must make sustainable development a central academic and organisational focus in order to create a just, equitable and ecologically sound future. This requires the generation and dissemination of knowledge through interdisciplinary research and teaching, policy-making, capacity-building, and technology transfer. It is critical that higher education institutions understand and accept their responsibility within the broader context of social and economic development, and the building of democratic, equitable and ecologically-minded societies." ("Global")
In 2006 the, somewhat awkward, word "sustainability" continues to stymie and tongue-tie some people, but its meaning is motivating individuals, institutions, businesses, and organizations as they awaken--invigorated and inspired--to this holistic way of looking at the world's problems and solutions.
Written by S.R. Hansen
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Sustainability Institute
"About Us." 2001. Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. 13 June 2005. <http://www.ulsf.org/about.html>.
"Alliance for Global Sustainability." No date. Alliance for Global Sustainability. 24 May 2005. <http://globalsustainability.org/content.cfm?uNav=27&uLang=1>.
"Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes." 2003. Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. 24 May 2005. <http://www.sustainability-indexes.com>.
"Education for Sustainable Development." 13 Oct. 2003. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 24 May 2005. <http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php>.
"Global Alliance to Promote Higher Education for Sustainable Development." Nov. 2004. International Association of Universities: Sustainable Development. 13 June 2005. <http://www.unesco.org/iau/sd/sd_ghesp.html>.
McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point P., 2002.