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1 Introduction and Overview Twenty years ago, the Board on Sustainable Development of the National Research Council conducted the study Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability (NRC, 1999). The goal of this landmark report was to âreinvigorate the essential strategic connections between scientific research, technological development, and societiesâ efforts to achieve environmentally sustainable improvements in human well-beingâ (NRC, 1999, 2). The title paid tribute to Our Common Future, the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development report that laid the groundwork for sustainable development (WCED, 1987). Our Common Journey also deliberately introduced the concept of a âjourney,â adopted to âreflect the boardâs view that any successful quest for sustainability will be a collective, uncertain, and adaptive endeavor in which societyâs discovering of where it wants to go is intertwined with how it might try to get thereâ (NRC, 1999, 2). AN URGENT JOURNEY The journey continues. The urgency to address environmental, economic, and societal challenges has increased worldwide as social and environmental processes intersect to exacerbate climate change, deforestation, ecosystem deg- radation, poverty, inequality, and conflict. When Our Common Journey was published in 1999, its authors envisioned a time horizon of two generations to make serious progress in the transition toward sustainability. To many observers, that two-generation window now seems like a luxury that human civilization does not have. As a result, there is a pressing need to dramatically increase design and implementation of solutions to sustainability challenges. 13
14 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Against this backdrop, individuals and groups around the world are taking steps to achieve sustainable development despite, or because of, the challenges. In 2015, the global community, through a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a com- prehensive set of 17 interconnected goals that ârecognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growthâall while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.â1 Communities, businesses, governments, and other formal and informal institutions are seeking ways to become more sustainable, whether explicitly tying their efforts to the SDG goals, other frameworks, or embarking on their own, complementary paths. In 1999, Our Common Journey called for a research agenda for the inter- disciplinary field of sustainability science and greater use of knowledge-action collaboratives to solve critical sustainability problems. This call aligned with the action plan developed at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which had outlined a foundation for the field of education for sustainable development (UNCED, 1993), or the more common term in the United States, sustainability education. As defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, education for sustainable development âempowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for envi- ronmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity.â2 At the UN Conference on Sus- tainable Development, or Rio+20, in 2012, the international community agreed to âpromote education for sustainable development, and to integrate sustainable development more actively into education beyond the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Developmentâ (UNESCO, 2014a, 2014b). Higher education institutions play a vital role in sustainability education in terms of educational curricula, research, collaborative action, and workforce development. Different definitions of sustainability education (Tilbury, 1995), hold in common a concern with applying learning to address real-world sustain- ability challenges (FigueirÃ³ and Raufflet, 2015; Sterling, 2010; Wals and Jickling, 2002). Thus, Wiek et al. (2011, 204) defines it as âeducation that should enable students to analyze and solve sustainability problems, to anticipate and prepare for future sustainability challenges, as well as to create and seize opportunities for sustainability.â The Green Education Foundation (2018) defines it as âeducation that utilizes applied learning models that connect real-world circumstances with the broader human concerns of environmental, economic, and social systems.â At the same time, because sustainability is a relatively new and still-evolving 1â See United Nations Sustainability Development Goals, available at https://sustainabledevelopment. un.org/sdgs, accessed on March 11, 2020. 2â For the definition of âeducation for sustainable development,â see https://en.unesco.org/themes/ education-sustainable-development/what-is-esd, accessed on March 11, 2020.
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW 15 synthetic concept in academia, definitions and programs of sustainability educa- tion continue to be refined in light of diverse needs of students and institutions. Analogously, meanings of terms used in sustainability education are still evolving. Terms are often used interchangeably even if they may mean different things to different people (Shephard et al., 2018). Therefore, for the sake of clar- ity, we define some of the key terms used throughout this report in Appendix A: these include sustainable development, sustainability, sustainability education, sustainability education programs/sustainability programs in higher education, sustainability curricula, environmental education, sustainability science research, and sustainability education research. One of the central goals of higher education in sustainability is to equip learners with the knowledge, skills, competencies, and capacities that would en- able them to work effectively in societal and environmental sustainability careers. Many institutions of higher education already have robust programs to prepare students to enter the workforce, cognizant of the SDGs and related sustainability challenges; others are in the process of creating such programs within existing offerings. From an employer perspective, public- and private-sector organizations need workers who are well versed in the principles of sustainability: people with a variety of skills, from entry level to top leadership, representing all segments of so- ciety, and able to apply their knowledge in sectors of the economy that range from agriculture, health care, financial services, transportation, and much more. Stu- dents are also creating demand. Many students may enter sustainability education programs with a passion to create change and develop the skills to channel that passion into action. Students may also look to incorporate sustainability concepts into the academic or career options they have already chosen, such as developing more sustainable supply chains in business or fewer carbon-emitting transporta- tion options. Regardless of their motivations, current and future undergraduate and graduate students will likely enter a broad range of sustainability-related fields. The importance of these questions has led some relevant grantmaking foun- dations, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Cynthia and George Mitchell Founda- tion to fund attempts to answer them. In 2013, the Foundation Center released a report indicating that U.S. foundations awarded $1.2 billion in grants that were focused on the âright to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environmentâ (Founda- tion Center, 2013). By 2017, support from foundations for work on sustainability had more than doubled to $2.7 billion (Foundation Center, 2017). The top issues receiving funding from foundations are biodiversity and spe- cies preservation, energy, fresh water and inland water ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems and land use, climate and atmosphere, coastal marine ecosystems, and sustainable agriculture and food systems. The most frequently funded strate- gies are advocacy, stewardship, and research. In 2015, these strategic approaches received 35 percent, 24 percent, and 15 percent of the funding, respectively (EGA and Foundation Center, 2017).
16 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA WORK OF THE COMMITTEE In 2018, the Science and Technology for Sustainability Program and the Board on Higher Education and Workforce convened the Committee on Strength- ening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. This six-person committee was requested to share findings and rec- ommendations for strengthening sustainability programs and curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels that relate to the SDGs and other relevant sustainability frameworks. (See Box 1-1 for the Statement of Task.) BOX 1-1 Committee Statement of Task An ad hoc committee under the Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) Program, in collaboration with the Board on Higher Education and Work- force (BHEW), will plan and conduct a series of three public workshops focused on strengthening sustainability programs and curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the United States. Each workshop will examine different ap- proaches and drivers for a coherent competency- and skill-based curriculum in the growing number of higher education sustainability programs, in order to connect them to the issues addressed through such frameworks as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the priorities of end users, including the private and public sectors. Specific issues to be addressed in the workshops may include: â¢ Providing an overview of current practices and major advances in sustain- ability education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, both domesti- cally and internationally, including trends in expansion across programs and disciplines and promising new approaches; â¢ Examining a comprehensive set of key competencies critical for sustainabil- ity education, and identifying knowledge gaps and critical barriers related to the effective development of common core competencies for interdisciplin- ary sustainability programs; â¢ Identifying strengths, gaps, priorities, and opportunities for university en- gagement with the SDGs, including accreditation of programs or national- level organizations to support and guide sustainability programs; â¢ Fostering partnerships between schools, universities, sectors, regions, and nations in sustainability higher education with enhanced recognition of the SDGs; and â¢ Discussing research agendas related to sustainability and the SDGs and the role of academic institutions to inform post-2030 processes. Based on the content of the three workshops, the committee will produce a report that provides findings and recommendations for strengthening sustainability programs and curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels that relate to the SDGs and other relevant sustainability frameworks.
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW 17 To gather input, the committee convened three public, participatory work- shops to gather perspectives from a diverse group of trainers and end users in sustainability education. The trainers included educators at public and private institutions, including research-intensive universities, private colleges, and 2- and 4-year minority-serving institutions. End users included professionals in engi- neering, administrative, and other roles in local and federal agencies, nonprofits, consulting firms, and corporations. Many of the participants are directly involved in hiring interns or entry-level employees. The committee designed two workshops, held in Austin, Texas, in December 2018, and Washington, D.C., in February 2019, around a series of open-ended questions for group discussion by educators and employers. Breakout sessions first divided âtrainingâ and âend-userâ stakeholders into separate groups, then merged them. They used the questions to stimulate discussion about current sustainability education practices and gaps, trends in sustainability education and workplace needs, and critical barriers to access. The first workshop included discussions on a systems thinking approach to sustainability; the diversity of nec- essary competencies, including such skills as communications and negotiations; and the importance of engaging with new technologies and big data and ethical dimensions in sustainability education. Participants in the second workshop em- phasized the need for a mix of crosscutting skills both interpersonal and cogni- tive, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion space, not just among students but also within faculty and across the board. A third workshop in Santa Cruz, California, in January 2020, diverged from the breakout-session format of the first two gatherings by convening three panels: the first included students and recent alumni to reflect on their educational experi- ences and preparation for employment in the field, followed by sessions of end users (employers) and educators that focused on the sustainability skills and competencies valued by hiring organizations and in the research and academic community, as well as ideas for strengthening sustainability programs. The workshop also included the discussion on how higher education can engage with their local communities in preparing students for careers in sustainability. The final workshop agendas are in Appendix D, and key themes that emerged from these workshops are highlighted throughout the report. Brief summaries of each of these workshops is available on the National Academies Press website at www.nas.edu. In addition, the committee conducted a review of the literature and of exist- ing curriculum reform and competency definition efforts, which were discussed at the workshops and during committee deliberations. The committeeâs recom- mendations and the choices of educational programs given as models are based primarily on input from practitioners attending the three workshops or members of the committee, as described in the committeeâs statement of task. However, the committee examined relevant literature and research where available. How the world predicts, responds to, and reconciles the challenges of the 21st century and beyond will require transformations on many levels and in all sectors.
18 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA The committee offers the findings and recommendations in this report, focused on higher education, to form a part of this vital endeavor. Much of the literature inform- ing the findings and recommendations in the report analyzed practices in degree programs, but the committee encourages sustainability program directors to apply the recommendations to nondegree sustainability programs where appropriate. In addition, the committee encourages using the evaluations of those efforts to inform subsequent research on strengthening sustainability programs in higher education. SCOPE OF THE STUDY AND ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT Sustainability education around the world includes all levels from the pri- mary grades to adult training and continuing education courses. This report fo- cuses on undergraduate and graduate education in the United States, recognizing that all areas of sustainability education, including Kâ12, workforce develop- ment, and citizen education, are critical to sustainability efforts. Indeed, sustainability is emerging as a revolutionary field of actionable knowledge to change how humans work and live. Analogously, sustainability education carries an enormous societal responsibility to identify both system- and component-level insights to enable sustainable societal transitions. The study consciously builds on global and national efforts already under way to strengthen sustainability education. After a consideration of the local, national, and global landscape related to sustainability education in Chapter 2, the report hones in on its three principal themes related to the substance of sustainability programs (i.e., competencies, content, and context), their institutional organization and support, and the rela- tionship with a strong sustainability workforce. Chapter 3 highlights the com- petencies, content areas, and capacities students need through classroom and experiential learning. Chapter 4 focuses on how academic institutions can build sustainability programs and where research may support their success. Chapter 5 examines the importance of developing a strong sustainability workforce. Each chapter includes specific recommendations that the concluding Chapter 6 com- piles and organizes by actor. REFERENCES EGA (Environmental Grantmakers Association) and Foundation Center. 2017. Tracking the Field: Volume 6: Analyzing Trends in Environmental Grantmaking. https://ega.org/sites/default/files/ pubs/summaries/EGA%20Tracking%20the%20Field%20Volume%206%20Executive%20 Summary.pdf. FigueirÃ³, P. S., and E. Raufflet. 2015. Sustainability in higher education: A systematic review with focus on management education. Journal of Cleaner Production 106, 22â33. Foundation Center. 2013. Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmak- ing. http://foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/research/pdf/humanrights_environment.pdf, accessed on March 11, 2020.
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