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Sustainability is a pursuit open to all

BY GUEST OPINION | JANUARY 20, 2011 7:10 AM

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I’m often asked to define “sustainability” these days. Because I’ve been fairly active in our campus sustainability efforts for quite some time, this isn’t particularly surprising. It is a bit surprising, though, that people seem to expect a short, simple response. So, I’ve come up with a timeless, universal definition of sustainability that I’d like us all to adopt. You might also be interested in my simple definitions of love, justice, and liberty (I’m kidding, of course).

Before I share my amazing definition of sustainability, I’ll mention my top-five sustainability concepts: Population Dynamics, Carrying Capacity, the Tragedy of the Commons, Innovation, and Collaboration. These concepts make up part of what I call the “language of sustainability.”

The language of sustainability is important, but even more crucial is the pursuit thereof.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happiness is not defined in the Declaration, but the right to pursue it is clearly articulated.

Sustainability also defies nifty definition, so perhaps the pursuit thereof should be our focus. And, of course, the pursuit is not restricted to men (as implied by the dated language of the Declaration); instead, this pursuit is available to all. Actually, a successful pursuit requires us all.

So, how do we prepare ourselves for the pursuit of sustainability? We teach the basics, but with a slight twist.

Consider reading, applied math, and research as basic attributes for citizens seeking to contribute to the collective pursuit of sustainability. Strong reading skills and the ability to apply math have long been societal indicators of capable citizens. Researching and discerning fact from fiction in the Google era strikes me as a capability that is under threat today, and our education strategies must adapt accordingly. After all, in the absence of fact, sustainability cannot be pursued.

Beyond the basics, great societies have always embraced one additional attribute I feel is crucial for sustainability: creative works. The ability to generate creative works is a distinguishing attribute for students pursuing sustainability at the university level. Writing, singing, dancing, designing, and molding are all forms of creative works and no society in the history of time has thrived without such creations. The pursuit of sustainability requires writers, artists, mathematicians, scientists, and thinkers of all stripes.

Would you like to pursue sustainability with a diverse group of university peers? Join us for these upcoming courses and events:

• Faculty Sustainability Teaching Forum: Feb. 10, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., TILE Classroom, Main Library

• Graduate Student Sustainability Forum: Feb. 11. Contact Moses Yoder at moses-yoder@uiowa.edu.

• Explorations in Sustainable Campus Living (053:195:002, 1 s.h.): For ALL students living in the UI residence halls. Students who complete the course receive a FREE ticket to the Sustainability Concert. Come to 3220 Seamans Center on Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. Add slips will be available.

• Sustainability Concert: April 28, IMU, featuring Mason Jennings.

• Sustainability Festival: April 28, IMU, Featuring the Creative Works of University of Iowa students, staff and faculty.

If you can’t join the dialogue, you can still adopt my most recent “timeless and universal” definition of sustainability and impress your friends.

Sustainability: The pursuit of a condition where the needs of the human population are balanced with the carrying capacity of the planet such that common global resources are never irreparably spoiled. This pursuit requires innovation and collaboration amongst people well equipped to read, calculate, and research the boundaries of the pursued condition to not only ensure survival, but to enable the perpetual development of creative works to serve and inspire human-kind.

Let the pursuit begin.

Craig Just is the coordinator of sustainability programs for the College of Engineering


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