What is Sustainability?


Sustainable development, or simply “sustainability” has been defined in a number of ways.  Perhaps the most common definition is the version proposed by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development:

“Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition, however, is vague, leaving it open to a very broad spectrum of interpretations as well as recommendations for how to achieve it.  All too often, sustainable development is both misunderstood and misrepresented.  An alternate definition is needed; one that communicates concisely how sustainability can be achieved.  One such definition is as follows:

Sustainability is the application of ecological principles to the design and management of human socioeconomic systems.

While this definition may be an improvement (I think so), it is not without its own shortcomings in terms of clarity.  More to the point, what are these ecological principles, and how may they be applied to human behavior, institutions, and technologies? 

Why teach themes?

Themes help students answer the question: “Why Would I need to Know This” or “How is this knowledge useful?”

  • Thematic teaching is a method of organizing teaching around broad topics, which makes it possible to integrate instruction across core content areas.
  • Themes encourage students to delve deeper into topics, developing an awareness and understanding of connections across content areas. (Seeing the trees and the forest.)
  • Students, especially those in MCAS driven courses, are taught the basic subject area content as delineated by state curriculum frameworks, but they may not be learning to apply this knowledge effectively in critical thinking, synthesis, and reasoning. Themes can help with this.