AN EPISTEMOLOGY OF SUSTAINABILITY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF
B.A. University of Northern Colorado, 2006
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
2011 by Jordan Andrea Reck
All Rights Reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Jordan Andrea Reck
has been approved
Reck, Jordan Andrea (M.A., Anthropology)
Locating Sustainability at the University of Colorado Denver, College of Liberal Arts
Thesis directed by professor Stephen Koester
With the world experiencing some of the worst environmental disasters in history
the increased call to sustainable action has created an abundant scientific record regarding
the ways individuals variably define and understand sustainability. The lack of consensus
surrounding ideological approaches to concepts in sustainability has been characterized as
inconsistent across disciplines, leading to incomplete understandings in interdisciplinary
curricula and applied projects. The results emerging from the literature are: a fractured
dissemination of information and increased competition and decreased trust between
members of interdisciplinary groups. Using an interpretive and improvisational set of
theoretical frameworks the study recovers five interdisciplinary faculty members narratives
regarding disciplinary, ideological and experiential understandings of sustainability. An
analysis of semi-structured interviews yields a series of ideologies and themes identified as
important to enacting and understanding sustainability. Participants narratives are divided
under the five Es of sustainability: 1) Economics, 2) Equity, 3) Environment, 4) Education,
and 5) Evaluation. The study also suggests the inclusion of a sixth E, Ethos, in an effort to
locate the subjective nature of defining and enacting sustainable initiatives and to normalize
the recognition of bias as a tool to improve relationships and perceptions of sustainability.
This thesis uses participant narratives to make suggestions for the progress of
interdisciplinary education programs aimed as sustainability. It discusses the need to
develop reflexive tools to create an environment for faculty to relate to one anothers stories
despite disciplinary rifts, to increase collaboration and trust, while making science relatable
and trustworthy to communities outside of academia. This thesis is informed by an
extensive body of research; however, its focus of thesis is on the untapped resource of
personal experience and narrative to contribute to future projects aimed at improving the
approach to a sustainable future.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
I dedicate this thesis to my parents for their unmatched support, the tremendous
example they have set, and for their insistence that I be an informed, conscious and
compassionate global citizen. I dedicate this to my wife Robyn, for her support
through midnight tantrums, rambling logic, and weeks lost to the computer. I also
dedicate this to my extended family (Reck, Clark, McCoy, Hall, Phelps and Smith
clans) and friends who have encouraged me to never stop talking about the issues that
matter, and who have listened to my rants and raves even when they didnt want to.
Lastly, I dedicate this to all those whom care enough about the world they live in,
those who fight to make it a better place, and to those who have not yet arrived at that
conclusion, may we change your hearts and minds.
The great players always give homage to their predecessors by recalling certain
things they did. They give it in appreciation and in understanding of the validity of their
predecessors. Being able to quote from songs and solos is always a part of a mature artist
because he is aware of the contribution of others and its impact, how valid it is. Something
this valid is timeless -Arthur Rhames
I would like to thank my advisor Stephen Koester for his contribution and support to
my thesis. I extend my thanks to Jean Scandlyn for her participation and insight. I
would like to thank Marty Otanez for his help and patience on this and many other
projects. My thanks to all faculty members at UCDs Anthropology Department for
the opportunities they individually provided. My thanks to the participants of this
study, who are co-authors to this project. A special thanks to Connie Turner for her
support through, knowledge of and ability to hold the hands of her graduate students
during trying processes. Id like to thank my cohort for endless support, editing, and
Jung moments. My thanks to Alison Toney my insignificant other for her borrowed
expertise and time. Lastly, Tara Smith, Jenifer Martin-Becker, Robyn Phelps, Gayle
Reck, the UCD Writing Center staff and the countless others who have edited this
TABLE OF CONTENTS
4. LITERATURE REVIEW.........................................23
Approaches to Sustainability...........................24
Disciplines and Sustainability.........................28
Debates About Sustainability...........................35
Environmental Mega Conferences, Implications for
Green Washing, Examples of Sustainabilitys Manipulation....41
The Role of Environmental Education.........................43
What Does Sustainability Mean to You?.......................59
Education and Evaluation....................................94
Support of the University...........................101
c w *
Modem education pays attention to the development of the brain and the intellect,
but this is not enough. We need also to be able to develop warm-heartedness in
our educational systems. This we need from kindergarten all the way through
-14th Dalai Lama
In 2008 I entered the anthropology Master's program planning to study the impacts
of water use along the Colorado River. I had hoped to examine the environmental effects of
damming and diversion, and the political ecology of allocation disputes between
populations accessing its flow from the source in Colorado to the mouth in Baja, Mexico.
As I began my generalized studies, I continuously encountered three issues. 1) The complex
methodological debates about how to act sustainably 2) the near absence of equality/equity
beyond basic discussions in sustainability research, and 3) the lack of unified and congruent
understanding of sustainability and sustainable development beyond the Brundtland Report,
Our Common Future which states: Sustainable development should meet the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
(United Nations 1987). I felt it was unrealistic to construct an applied project dealing with
the use of water when the foundation of the issue, sustainable development, was unclear.
Despite the shortcomings in sustainability, literature shows that the term has become
increasingly popular in social discourse and practice. The heightened awareness has come
through media coverage of environmental mega conferences and the emphasis on a
capitalist green economy. Attention is also given to the necessity of sustainable action as
the world faces more environmental disasters and social crises. To attempt to mitigate these
recurrent problems sustainability has been included in the goals and policies of businesses,
governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, and universities.
However, no common understanding exists; sustainability and sustainable development
remain buzzwords that are easily manipulated by individuals and corporations engaged in
green-washing and unsustainable practices.
The consideration of the project was turned towards understanding the diversity of
ideologies used to approach sustainability and sustainable development, and whether that
diversity is impeding or assisting interdisciplinary education. The intention in doing so was
to contribute to the reinforcement of sustainability against its misuse by increasing the
opportunities for and the quality of conversations about its application. Universities seemed
to be appropriate institutions to enact a study of this nature due to the presence of various
disciplines already involved in debates about sustainability.
From the outset of defining sustainability, academics have created a disciplinary
tower of Babel when it came to enacting sustainability (Brown et al. 1987; Shields, Solar, &
Martin 2002). Specific frameworks, definitions, approaches and sets of indicators have
emerged as standing orthodoxies, most notably the required balance of the three Es:
economy, environment, and equity. Yet, the representation of sustainability and sustainable
development in research and applied projects differs significantly from the structure of these
orthodoxies, resulting in varied emphases on the three indicators. As one professor of
engineering well versed in applied projects, stated, "there is no sweet spot, in which all
three elements come together perfectly (Ramaswami, A. Personal Interview January 20,
Despite the subjective nature of enacting sustainability there seems to be minimal
recognition as to how individuals have come to define sustainability in a particular way. The
emphasized use of specific frameworks is arrived at by some set of choices based on
experience. The purpose of this study is to find out how knowledge producers at the
University of Colorado at Denver within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS)
approach the topic of sustainability personally and professionally. The research is meant to
do more than find variable definitions of sustainability; it is meant to invoke real world
effects, stir discussion, focus curriculum, grab attention for further support and bridge actors
in order to share knowledge so that sustainability can move forward at UCD's local level
(Esterberg 2002). Through the analysis of interviews, I argue that participant ideologies
(how they teach and approach sustainability theoretically) are determined by personal
experiences. I assert that the concept of ethos should be included with evaluation,
education, and the three Es as a standard domain for sustainability and should be used as a
means to transmit personal information that can be used to build relationships and overcome
The paper addresses reflection and recognition of disciplinary and personal
understandings as a path to provide a basic ideological profile about sustainability. My
hope is that a profile will create more focused conversations as participants work to enact
educational programs. The study reveals the narratives of five faculty members actively
involved in sustainability on campus through an interdisciplinary group called the
sustainability signature area. The participants represent anthropology, biology, engineering,
geography and public policy.
Participant narratives are discussed in relation to the common thematic debates
found in the literature including the ecological roots and politicized approaches of
sustainability. The narratives highlight the identification of themes in academic definitions
as well as personal narratives to explain attachments to particular ideologies. With this the
question moves from What does sustainability mean? to What does sustainability mean
to you? This switch in approach embraces the complexity of the topic while illuminating
paths of negotiation for actors to develop interdisciplinary frameworks when teaching
environmental education. The location of the meaning of sustainability then becomes the
local level where it is personified by the professional, cultural, and even spiritual interests of
those enacting it. An important feature of this research is that it includes personal reflection
of its author and its participants. This is the key to ensuring that that the localized
ideologies and schools of thought are understood and translated across disciplines as means
to strengthen relationships and tool sets to complete our goals.
The theoretical path that has led to the research question in this thesis is
complex and without a doubt contradictory. However, the study of sustainability is in
and of itself complex, and no one approach or definition exists as the definitive way
to understand it. Because of this complexity, research dealing with sustainability
should not be limited to one theoretical path of understanding. The complexity of
sustainability ensures that theory cannot be cerebral and categorized, separate and
individualized. It requires that theory be fluid and act as parts to the whole.
Otherwise, we become living representations of the Indian anecdote of the six blind
men and the elephant (Riordan 1986). Blind researchers, each feeling only one piece
of the object we study, ignoring variety and defining the whole by the only part we
As for my approach to sustainability I identify with the ecocentric approach. I
believe that technology, while assistive, is not the answer to our problems.
Additionally I believe that the reliance on technology furthers theoretical constructs
and unsustainable practices like natural capitalism and greenwashing. The tools
available under natural capitalism are often used to influence policy inconsistently
(Smith 2011). Natural capitalism has been used in policy since the 90s yet carbon
emissions are up times four (Schweickart 2010). If policy were truly affected by this
framework, we would see the increase in resource use and the reduction in waste that
Lovins and Lovins (2001) predict. The reality is that despite policy changes that
include environmental interests, private interests are private (Perkins 2011). This
ensures disparity and a hegemonic construction of human relationships to the natural
Since natural capitalism dictates that capitalist actors would define the worlds
response to environmental change, other means of mitigation would be ignored
(Newell 2011). This includes behavioral changes necessary to reduce consumption.
We know that capitalism has a tendency to ignore local level issues in favor of
investor interests, and it is known that this continues the hegemonic leverage of
private interests. Ultimately, the private sector will have to be included to help
governments cover the cost of mitigation efforts (Newell 2011). However, markets
should not be left to their own devices. The question becomes how is this inclusion
governed so that inequality and degradation arent reproduced. This sits in the hands
of society and the knowledge producing communities involved in sustainability
(Schweickart 2011). It is necessary that they step forward as agents of change to
create a unified understanding of sustainability that is inclusive but does not rely on
orthodoxies. That is not a job for private interests, or natural capitalism.
To avoid the oversight of diversity the theoretical framework for this project uses a
process that Liisa Malki (2007) calls improvisation. This means that theory is selected and
used through an individual's assumptions, and there is a capacity for surprise when those
assumptions are confronted. This confrontation allows research to co-create theory and
auto-understanding. Simply, using one theory is too one-dimensional of an approach to
what Malki believes is the anthropological tradition: improvisation in our flexibility and,
intellectual openness in our principled efforts to imagine and create the ethnographer as the
The use of improvisation in this thesis is exploratory. Improvisation is built on
shared realities and ideologies. Improvisation is really praxis of objective knowledge and
subjective experience (Conquergood 2002). In this thesis, bridging knowledge and
experience relates the humanity of participants to the structure of the university systems that
constrains or assists that praxis (Ortner 1984), the result of which is the projection of how
participants teach students about sustainability, and what is taken away by students entering
multiple work forces to influence sustainable action in our society.
In jazz theory, there is a lifetime of learned ideas behind any improvisation (Berliner
1994). The back and forth of discovery is a central element in the cyclical nature of any
continual performance whether in music, in art, dance or the application of sustainability.
Improvisation makes our work live; our projects take on metaphorical heartbeats to become
heuristic reflections of living and breathing things because they are a part of our lives. We
do not limit ourselves to one identity (Wilchins 2008), and while a particular theory is best
suited to frame our work, it is not the only theory that delivers us to any one end. We should
be as connected to that progression in our work as it is suggested we be to nature. The
experience of arriving at a theory cannot be removed from the final selection
Improvisation as Malkki describes it is not theory; it is a method for framing the
process, organization, and exaction of research. Improvisation is a valuable tool that occurs
frequently within many areas of culture, and it is considered an organizational requirement
(Fortier 2010). It has been used in applied anthropology to act as a script for the active
development of knowledge, which allows for the adaptation of action steps within different
contexts (Kottak & Kozaitis 1998). Improvisation is always present in analysis and is
needed for research that deals with sustainability.
With any idea, there are critiques. Malkii cites critics who believe that, while the
concept of improvisation is convenient it blurs disciplines that are too separate to be a part
of shared knowledge-production. Yet, the process of knowledge-production is messy, and
often defies strict disciplinary boundaries, particularly for sustainability. For ideas to
develop and advance, there must be change, adaptation, an ability to blend with unlikely
allies. The multiplicity and subjectivity of theory is a hard concept. In many ways,
academia and even my home discipline of anthropology identify with positivist trends
improvisation in contrast is naturalistic (Fortier 2010). There has to be some trust in the use
of improvisation particularly to meet the demand for interdisciplinary work on complicated
topics like sustainability.
Because cultural concepts including sustainability are determined by assumptions
about the world, our work should reflect the subjectivity of our selected frameworks (Fortier
2010). Theories are created out of heurism and the relationship of thought shared between
people. They are chosen, intentional, and infused with passion through a personal
connection and agreement with posited concepts. This study asks participants to reflect on
their personal connections to, and understandings of, sustainability.
There is a life history behind the selection on this projects theory and methodology,
sometimes it is led by insight and other times, preference. Improvisation, may serve as a
model for others to give the processes that inform their work some acknowledgement. For
this project, I have highlighted three theories as important to the development of this thesis.
The first is political ecology. Not only is it a strong theoretical theme through
environmental work in anthropology, it is one that has been built on improvisation of
ecological, biological and economic theories. Second, chaos theory, which directly reflects
multiplicity and the concept of adaptation through diversity, mutation and improvisation of
patterns, built on existing models. The last is sense-making theory, a theory that considers
and honors objective and subjective experience as an informing factor of our work and
identity. Each theory is introduced below in the order that I uncovered them during my
academic career in the anthropology M.A. program.
The question for this project is What does sustainability look like to knowledge-
producing members of academia in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UCD?
Arriving at this question was a three-year long process that was informed by many theories.
The first was Political Ecology (PE). I used PE to methodologically inform the organization
of data into the three Es, economics, equity and environment. It was also important to use
to inform faculty narratives since academics act as a political body whose production of
knowledge informs generalizable understandings about how our society should approach
and interact with the environment.
Political ecology was first used in neo-Marxist theories by Eric Wolf to look at how
power relations mediate the human-environment relationship (Wolf 1972). It grew out of
dependency and world systems theories, which were products of 20th century capitalism and
industrialization (Skocpol, 1977). They attempt to understand relationships between the
core (consuming middle and upper classes of the north or west) and the periphery
(those in the south or east who are serving the needs of the core) and how those
relationships impact economies and environments (Goldfrank, 2000). The relationship is
one of inequality and dependence; the core on the periphery and vice versa, through world
systems. Within these theories exists a debate regarding the flexibility of the core/periphery
relationship (Frank 1989; Cardoso & Faletto 1979; Wallerstein 1976). The more recent
trends within economically critical theories like political economy is to look at non-
capitalist modes of production in places where globalization and neoliberalism are being
introduced to understand the inability for autonomous development (Cardoso & Faletto
1976). According to Wolf (1982), political ecology is able to look at the hierarchies of
interconnections between larger systems in which local populations become embedded. It
bridges these aforementioned theories focus on class with ecology and other socially
institutionalized categories including race, gender, and sexuality (Biersack 2006).
Political ecology has a broad definition and framework that allows the
theoretical means to create common ground where disciplines or communities
intersect within their environment (Greenberg & Park 1994). Much like
sustainability, Greenberg and Park argue that this theoretical paradigm has no clear
framework, and has been variably interpreted by different parties. Examples of
divergence include the ideologies of Bruno Latour (2004) who believes PE means
looking at nature as a construct of political order, not reality, and political ecology
offers a way to look at human and non-human experiences building on science as it is
Arturo Escobar (1996) discusses the need for a post structuralist political
ecology to understand the history of discourse used to turn the natural world into a
passive background for economic manipulation. For Raymond Bryant (1992)
political ecology looks at the contextual sources of environmental change; conflict
over access; and the political ramifications of environmental change in order to
integrate an understanding of how environmental and political forces interact to
mediate social and environmental change. In geography, where PE had its start, the
philosophy requires the use of geo scales and hierarchies of socio economic status by
which geography was socially constructed and dependent on local history (Blackie &
The understanding I have taken away from this diversity of ideas is that
political ecology must exist in a fluid and improvised space since it is built on
theories of culture, economics, history and biology (Peet & Watts 1993). While some
political ecologists reject localism, Ferguson (1992) challenges with the notion that
culture belongs to spatially localized people. This thesis uses a geographically
localized population that is creating a base of knowledge not limited to the campus at
UCD. The professors that I interviewed are linked to UCD, however their work is
shared with other professionals and academics through peer reviewed publications,
presentations at conferences and the application of knowledge gained by students
who enter a diverse workforce. This dissemination of information creates a
multilevel, multisite epistemology and ontology where complimentary and
contradictory approaches can exist. This ultimately led to my desire to understand
what sustainability looks like to academics at UCD in order to create a clearer
understanding of its use.
The diverse approaches and definitions of sustainability, or sustainable
development, seemed extremely daunting. How can a definition or at least a
parameter of understanding be built when there is so much complex data surrounding
these issues? An interesting concept came out of Stephen Lansing's (1987) study of
Balinese water temples. Lansing (2003, 1987), a political ecologist, employed chaos
theory, or complex adaptive theory, to inform his work, ultimately showing that
complex patterns that are situated at the event horizon of chaos are better suited to
adapt and sustain their existance. Chaos theory was used in this thesis to better
understand the structure of the sustainability group and the minor.
Lansing (2003) uses the concept of Christmas lights to explain the theory. If a
string of lights is given a fixed pattern with no change the lights will eventually
twinkle themselves out. If a string of lights is given too many patterns at random it
will become chaotic and overloaded unable to maintain a pattern at all and bum itself
out. However, if a string of lights is given a series of patterns that are set with a
frame of regulation, but they are able to adapt to new patterns within that framing,
they appear to be chaotic but are actually controlled by a certain set of characteristics
and continue blinking. The use of existing patterns creates room for improvisation,
which allows for diversity. From this position, the diversity of definitions found in
existing literature and provided by participants is actually necessary to create
innovation. Lansing was able to show in an applied setting how cultural barriers can
be overcome using a solid institutional framework to oversee a complex network of
Complex adaptive theory has also been used in studies around environmental
education to understand the complexities of its application temporally (Stephens et al.
2008). By looking at the ways in which education was produced, the transition to
more sustainable lifestyles was understood more clearly in regards to time and space
(Kemp & Loorbach 2003). Patterns and relationships of complexity in sustainability
created viable and lasting programs.
It is important to note that within this theoretical paradigm, dynamic systems
like an organization, in this case the sustainability signature area, arrange themselves
around specific factors that are critical to their structure (Mann 1992). In this study,
the critical factors are sustainability and interdisciplinary work. These factors are
affected by external influences, which can create alterations in systems that continue
a pattern of convergence and divergence within a group that keeps them from
stagnation and chaos (Thietart & Forgues 1995). Another analogy used to describe
this is a pile of sand (Mann 1992). Every time a grain is added to the pile, it changes
the pattern or structure. Eventually if many grains are added it can build up the
pattern, sometimes too much and it will create a landslide effect. The aftermath of
this collapse creates the foundation for what is built next. Manns (1992) work
discusses a major point for chaos theory, in order to create change the existing
conditions and perceptions of the system and its stability must be examined.
This concept led to the idea of using a networks approach to identify the
existing structure of how members of the academic community at UCD think about
sustainability and how they relate and associate across disciplines in regards to
sustainability (Schensul et al. 1999). If the sustainability signature areas structure
proved to be in or near a divergent mode then inclusion of new ideas like reflexivity
and personal ethos could assist in a new adaptive cycle.
Using sensemaking I propose that ethos can be used to create mutual
understanding and improved relationships between actors involved in sustainability at
UCD. Sensemaking states that people relay circumstances and experiences for others
to comprehend and fill in gaps of understanding (Weick, Sutcliffe & Obstfeld 2005).
Gaps of understanding exist due to a multitude of reasons but what matters is that
when we are able to relate to ideas, when they are made understandable, we are able
to turn them into truths (Kellar-Guenther &Betts 2011). The easiest way to make
sense of something is to relate to shared experiences which construct meaning that is
accessible to organizations or groups as a whole (Weick, Sutcliffe & Obstfeld 2005).
In order to do this people must share their ideas openly, both professionally and
In this case, it is necessary to make sense of the interpretations of knowledge
producers roles in sustainable initiatives. Much like political ecology, sensemaking
promotes the use of interdisciplinary work and collaboration (Biersack 2006; Kellar-
Guenther &Betts 2011). Personal and professional ideas concerning sustainability
could be used to develop a working framework. Through a shared sense of
investment and understanding, barriers created by constraints of separateness are
overcome. From this position, people must be reflexive and use their experiences to
improvise new methods to break down what Ortner (1984) considers an atmosphere
of otherness between disciplines.
This framework of theory is exploratory and is not a common practice. The
multiplicity of theories discussed in this section as well as those that emerge in the
findings can be confusing, though necessary. To assist the reader I have included a
chain of theory (Appendix A) that can be referred while reading the rest of this
The data collection for this thesis took place in the spring of 2011 at the
University of Colorado Denver. It samples a group of five professors that teach in
different disciplines housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences but who have
also been involved in the Sustainability Signature Area, and the construction of the
Sustainability Minor. The University of Colorado, Denver campus was a particularly
pertinent site to explore this topic due to the recent introduction of interdisciplinary,
"green" education programs on campus, including: 1) the Integrative Graduate
Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, 2) the political ecology/
sustainable development track in anthropology and 3) the sustainability minor. Fifty
faculty members teach in these programs, which include courses that span across
fourteen disciplines (Brett et al. 2008). The university also collaborates with
institutional and community partners to teach courses to the approxamatelylOO
students involved in these programs yearly, and the nearly 13,400 others who are
directly impacted by sustainability issues in the 80 other programs faculty are
involved in through their individual departments.
The project seeks to understand how knowledge-producing members of
UCDs CLAS define sustainability but also how their experiences have influenced
their understanding of the concept. In the article We Can't Handle the Truth, Chris
Mooney (2011) discusses the idea that despite the peer reviewed process' assurance
that the better ideas predominate, we are all impelled by our emotions and bias. As a
result, this project acts as the exploratory first step towards a discussion in academia
about our subjective presence, and how it affects research and knowledge production
Reflexivity is a classic canon of anthropological work. It was a response to
the classic period, shifting ethnographic research away from interpretive and towards
perspective methodologies (Stocking 1983; De Neve & Unnithan-Kumar 2006). In
the 1960s and 1970s Rabinow, Madden and Giddens defined literary reflexivity by
which the author reflects on the subjective process of writing texts to combat the
critiques of ethnographys lack of objectivity (Clifford & Marcus 1986; Scholte
1969). In the 1990s Bell Hooks () began to discuss reflexivity as the means to insert
the context of identity in research. This resulted in an anti-postmodernist backlash of
critiques against unscientific auto-ethnography and led to reflexivity giving way to
globalization in the 2000s (De Neve & Unnithan-Kumar 2006). Being reflexive
according to De Neve and Unnithan-Kumar, is now a matter of location, not just in a
field site but also in the location of schools of thought that shape knowledge
production. This new type of reflexivity is perfectly suited to address how
sustainability is produced by academics at UCD.
As a student of anthropology I believe this should be carried out as often as possible.
Reflexivity is often limited in scholarly and scientific sections, and left as afterthoughts in
personal accounts of introductions (Ruby 1980). The move to being recognized as a
participant in our own work requires the introspective act of reflexivity in ones research
(Hamada 1995). Reflexive expectations mean that researchers take on a disciplined self-
awareness in observations on other lives and in other cultures (Mead 1976). The
dissemination of science has been held up for too long by positivism (Ruby 1980). Giddens
(1976:157) puts it best when he states
The human scientist has had to learn how to relate self-knowledge of
him- or herself as a multisensory being with a unique personal history
as a member of a specific culture at a specific period to ongoing
experience and how to include as far.
To honor individual experience and avoid what Harraway (1988) calls the
God's eye view in scientific pursuits, I purposefully included reflection in the research
process as an essential component of the project. I used reflexivity as an argument to
inform my findings but I also felt that it was essential to include my voice in this
research. I included my voice within the presentation of this project both as a
presence in the written script, and through the inclusion of a short, three-minute
example narrative video I created by examining my own experiences and how they
influenced my studies in sustainable development. To make this video I created a
short script that captured the three most commonly discussed approaches of
sustainable development: environment, equity, and economy (See Appendix B). I
then selected relevant media (video and photos) to visually convey my experiences to
my audience in order to create a common understanding.
I have included myself, not as the Geertzian silent native, but as a co-
participant in this process (Geertz 1974). My goal is to provide explanations of my
beliefs, how they have led me to this project, and how my experiences of process
influenced the finished product. I take the stance that I cannot ask of my participants
what I am not willing to do myself.
This project entailed moving away from the traditional formula of studying
exotic populations abroad. Instead, the project focused on fieldwork at home while
using polymorphous engagement, working across disciplines and domains within an
organized institution (Gusterson 1997). It is meant the collection of materials from a
wide array of sources including meeting minutes, online forums, and curriculum and
university websites to create a deeper understanding of sustainability at UCD
(Forsythe 2000). This helped to create a more informed view within the context of
this topic and in the respective specialties of the participating informants.
Before the study began and interviewees were contacted via telephone, the
study was submitted to the Human Subjects Research Committee. The proposed
methods for sampling, interviewing, analyzing, and dissemination were submitted to
the HSRC for ethics review. The project was accepted by the committee as ethically
sound and I was able to move forward with the project.
The study utilized three key informants, separate from the sample group; two are
professors who were involved in the construction of the sustainability minor and the other is
a member of CLAS administration in charge of overseeing the signature areas. The key
informants helped to identify key players in the Sustainability Signature Area housed in
CLAS, as being the most involved in issues of sustainability. Participants varied by
demographic characteristics but shared related positions in academia. Sampling for the
project was heterogeneous and purposive. It was an intentional process; all members are
professors in academia. They were specifically recruited based on varying disciplines,
backgrounds, and demographics including gender and ethnicity (Patton 2002; Ulin,
Robinson, Tolley & McNeill 2002). Sampling was limited to discussions with the three key
informants at the start if the sampling process; however, through initial meetings with
participants for study recruitment three professors identified one person outside of CLAS as
an essential person involved in sustainability at UCDs engineering department.
Due to short time span for interviews (three months) emphasis was placed on depth
over breadth; the meaningfulness of the interviews took precedence over extensive data
(Patton 2002). For manageability, the interviews were limited to five participants: one
facult member from each anthropology, biology, geography, engineering, and political
science. Three of the five participants have taught in the sustainability minor, two have held
the position of director in an interdisciplinary program in CLAS and one is the director of an
interdisciplinary program housed in engineering.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted in order to better understand the central
domains of sustainability and individuals experiences. Domains are the general ideas that
share similar meaning in a culture; they produce a structure of relationships that inform a
normalized structure of meaning (Borgotti 1999). The interviews took place in a convenient
setting chosen by participants. Participants signed consent and media release forms before
interviews were conducted. Interviews lasted between 30 to 60 minutes. They were
conducted using a one on one format in order to obtain discipline specific understandings of
what sustainability means, without being interrupted or swayed by the beliefs of others in a
group dynamic. Questions were asked to elicit experience, knowledge, and opinions that
were operationalized into variables of beliefs (Ulin, Robinson, Tolley & McNeill 2002;
Schensul, Shcensul & LeCompte 1999). An example of one of those questions is What
does sustainability mean to you? (See Appendix C).
In order to encourage thoughtful discussion and monitor for contrasting
statements, follow up questions were used as probes (Agar 1996). Probes were
developed from current events, existing literature, and statements made in interviews
with other participants. I also used the example narrative video (please see
http://vimeo.com/30873772) detailing the experiences that led me to care about
sustainability as a probe for personal discussion and as an indicator for whether
faculty thought digital narratives were a realistic way to engage others in discussion.
By showing the video to participants, an element of trust was created through
extended conversations that allowed them to speak candidly regarding their own
experiences (See findings for discussion).
The study was also meant to meet the needs of the selected academic
population, to enact change and action among the participants by producing
suggestions for members to use for the benefit of the group. One key informant
expressed frustration with the lack of congruent definition by faculty working in the
sustainability minor and noted divergence of understanding regarding sustainability
as one of the barriers to the programs success, confirming the need for this study.
In order to create the action oriented outcomes mentioned above, all of the
interviews were videotaped to create a short video that identifies the definitions of
sustainability and the personal beliefs and experiences that have influenced
participants. A total of five and a half hours was recorded including supplementary
footage and photographs. Due to time constraints, the final video will be finished
after publication of this thesis. In the meantime, a working draft is available to view
online (see http://vimeo.com/album/1726159). The video will only be disseminated
after informants approve its internal validity, otherwise known as the agreement of
community members of the truthfulness of the representation (Green & Glasgow
2006). The video will be disseminated to each individual participant for their
determined use in the classroom, in faculty meetings or on the signature area website.
Grimshaw (2001) states that the research world still has iconophobia and
therefore video is still not widely used to relay research findings. Visual methods are
important elements that can provide real-time, narrative experiences that allow the
audience to put consistent blueprints about multi-disciplinary concepts of
sustainability together in their own intellect (Hockings 2003). There are many
opportunities that exist for researchers to disseminate scholarly knowledge through
video. By using a visual format that is tangible and recognizable, the concepts
discussed will reach a larger, more public audience and create greater understanding
and broad knowledge (Shields 2002). Putting accessible tools that are capable of
communicating complex information in a clear way for the consideration of those
outside academia might allow for the wider-spread acceptance of evidence-based
practices. In this case evidence means the way sustainability is defined and therefore
used in appropriate practices for implementation (Green & Glasgow 2006). The use
of visual narratives as an exploratory and iterative step in this thesis is meant to act as
an example of how the evidence obtained through participants expertise and
experience can be portrayed to reconcile external and internal focuses of validity.
After videotaped interviews were obtained, they were transcribed into text and
placed into qualitative textual and video analysis software. Because the project
involved a relatively small sample group, Microsoft Word, a less complex text based
software, was used to create hard copies of the time-coded transcripts for general
notes. The video data was uploaded to software called Transana. Transana is
inexpensive software made to handle large amounts of video and audio files
(Hotchkiss 2009). Programs like Nudist and N*vivo can handle a limited amount of
multimedia files and cannot import video transcriptions (Parmeggiani 2008).
Transana is multiplatform software, which means it can work on both Apple and
Windows-based operating programs (Parmegianni 2008).
After the text-based transcriptions were created, they were coded. The unit of
analysis when coding was dependent on the context. Mostly the sentence was used as
the unit of analysis for manageability, although some codes were assigned to larger
narratives and smaller units such as ideological stances or words to measure
terminology use (Berg 2001). A framework or coding sort was developed using
primary codes to stand for common themes and secondary codes to capture subtleties
or discipline specific domains (Ulin, Robinson, Tolley & McNeill. 2002). Typically
there should be at least three shared interpretations in order to validate a theme,
however attention to negative cases; cases that go against general or common
findings, were necessary to show the unique and independent themes present in
specific disciplines (Miles & Huberman 2004; Berg 2001).
There were three types of domains within the coding structure: 1) A priori
codes that were pulled from questions about economics, equity and environment, 2)
Those that were inductive and developed from the interpretation of data, 3) Codes
that were identified in vivo, defined by interviewees language (Berg 2001). Transana
was helpful when organizing the video clips according to major codes and themes
developed from the codes. The time-coded transcriptions also served as a tool to
create a narrative storyboard from which the visual companion to this project was
formed. From this storyboard, the narrative video could then start to be developed to
create a constructive and tangible tool that can be used in classrooms or meetings
when addressing sustainability. The analysis closed with a set of themes and patterns
from which an understanding of sustainability as it is seen by different actors in the
Sustainability Signature Area could be constructed.
It is important to discuss potential barriers to this study. It is important to look
at those barriers as opportunities to create research that is testable and iterative. The
people interviewed for this project were extremely busy and time constraints had to
be expected. Patience was required to constructively problem solve for constraints
that may arise. This included inability to contact relevant participants because they
were no longer with the university or out of the office, an unwillingness to participate
and as Zilahy and Huisngh (2009) encountered a lack of commitment to the project
by participants who are busy with their own work.
There is also an issue of turf and boundary distinctions among disciplines for
funding, publication, and evaluation (Moore 2005). I felt it was important to be
careful and respect participants investments in their disciplines despite any beliefs I
have about sustainabilitys meaning. Lastly, due to a developing video-based
infrastructure in the anthropology department, I had to account for a lack of available
equipment. While some of the equipment necessary for making the video had already
been obtained, there was still the need to work around the lack of access to equipment
being checked out by other videographers. Another consideration to take into
account was my lack of experience with video production. I have an intermediate
understanding of video editing and equipment operation but was new to many of the
variables that are required for production. This includes the use of lighting, the
operation of audio equipment and the organization of space to create interesting
visual backgrounds and reduce disturbances by others occupying shared areas.
Sustainability has always been a concern for human populations. The
archaeological record as well as ethnographic and historical studies are rich with
cases of paradoxical relationships between resource depletion and conservation
(Diamond 2005; Weisman 2007). Indigenous groups in the Americas developed a
variety of cultural practices that acted to ensure a sustainable use of resources (Brady
& Ashmore 1999; Morris 1996; Carrasco 1998). Yet, it is important to acknowledge
that even though preindustrial populations revered the natural world, the capacity for
sustainability was difficult as they transitioned from egalitarian communities to
chiefdoms and eventually nation states (Evans, 2004). The Mayans are a great
example of an animistic society who despite their connection to the natural world
participated in unsustainable practices (Shaw 2003). Their history shows how despite
reverence for the natural world and the use of technology the balance of sustainability
Industrial notions of sustainability can be traced to the 18th century when
rapidly expanding shipping and forestry industries used it to determine demand and
production (Laws et al. 2004). During this same period, Thomas Malthus posited
that population growth would exceed the availability of essential resources (Rogers,
Jalal & Boy 2008). Malthus dire prediction was prevented by the rapid advance of
technology during the industrial revolution a solution that appears to have been
temporary as evidenced by the fact that these same issues concern us today (Jepson
The dictionary defines sustainability as capable of being upheld, to sustain to
keep a person, community from failing; to support life (Sustainability Merriam-
Websters Online Dictionary). Through its popularity, sustainability as a term has become
far more intricate than what the standard definition found in a dictionary reflects. Nearly
every discipline contains concepts of sustainability in its ideology. While the terms
flexible application contributes to innovative and creative outcomes, the concept of
sustainability lacks a solid framework, which contributes to the misuse of the term (Brown
et al. 1987). Rogers, Jalal and Boyd (2008) discusses the existence of 57 definitions, 19
principals, 12 criterions, 4 frameworks and 28 sets of indicators used by varying disciplines
to measure sustainable development (See Appendix E for examples of definitions). The
diversity of the terms utilization reflects its importance but that is also, what has led to its
overuse and abuse.
Early definitions like the one in the Brundtland Report cited previously have
moved the environmental focus- towards understanding and implementing sustainable
development in an attempt to funnel sustainability down to an oversimplified term.
While these definitions continue to inform the global perspective in regard to
sustainability, they under represent human issues, ignore regional details of local
needs and resources, and do not account for a global economy based on growth
(Stone 2003; Brown et al. 1987). The exclusion of such important social indicators
has contributed to a deficient approach to sustainability. Most knowledge-producers
recognize the important interconnections between the environment and economy, and
the need for equitable access to resources. Nevertheless, people still approach
sustainability and sustainable development from the perspective of their discipline
and what it requires of them when creating methods for sustainable initiatives or
Approaches to Sustainability
The application of sustainability depends on who is defining it. Sustainability
as a conceptual framework has been applied in a number of fields all of which access
different approaches. A more general set of approaches across disciplines includes
sustainability and sustainable development, sustainable community and society,
sustainable business and production, and sustainable agriculture (Sustainable
Each field applies their approaches in distinct ways and with institutional bias.
For example, The World Business Council on Sustainable Development emphasizes
the role of business stating,
Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of
economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity.
Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a
single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line. (World
Business Council on Sustainable Development [WBCSD] 2011).
However, The Presidents Council on Sustainable Development takes a socio-
ecological approach, stating, To create a life-sustaining Earth, a future in which
prosperity and opportunity increase while life flourishes and pressures on the oceans,
Earth and atmosphere diminish." (Presidents Council on Sustainable Development
[PCSD] 1999). The first example emphasizes the use of environmental quality and
social equality for the continuation of current humancentered systems in economics
that require growth. In comparison, the second example discusses the opportunity for
prosperity as belonging to all beings and ecological systems for the continuation of
life on Earth, not just affluent human cultures.
Some believe these fundamental differences in disciplinary approaches lead to
disjuncture in the ability to become sustainable; others believe the diversity is
necessary to reinforce sustainability against narrow and impractical frameworks
(Palmer 1998). While diversity is a necessary element of sustainability, the lack of
normative understandings about what it means between disciplines creates new
questions about sustainability when trying to create understandable outcomes of
research. This includes asking: What elements of sustainability should be measured?
What counts as quality (environmental or social)? Moreover, how is quality
determined between competing interests? In addition, which interests are more
important to address?
To address these questions context dependent evaluation instruments have
been developed. These instruments are used to measure sustainability and are
dependent on the discipline specific frameworks and definitions (Rogers, Jalal &
Boyd 2008). The Bellagio Principles discuss the use of evaluation devices in
sustainability/sustainable development stating that there needs to be a clear definition
of what sustainability is meant to be, that the approach must be holistic and a limited
number of indicators should be used in measurements (IISD 2011). Some common
measuring tools include the Ecological Footprint, Genuine Progress Indicator, Living
Planet Index, Dashboard of Sustainability, Backcasting, Factor Ten, and the Life
Cycle Assessment (Robert 2002). Each measure uses different indicators to inform
the intended evaluation and can become as complex as the holistic understanding of
sustainability (See Appendix D).
Many of these tools were developed out of the concept Natural Capitalism, as
a business model to attach environmental performance to the bottom line (Hueting,
Reminders 1998). Toolsets developed though Natural Capitalism are able to help
other disciplines understand complex issues surrounding sustainability. The
Ecological Footprint Calculator, for example, is helpful in examining patterns of
consumption, most notably food consumption and production levels aimed at
determining basic needs. Critics believe that these toolsets do nothing more than
measure workflows and that resource management tools are better suited to measure
the capacity of our environment in relation to our development (Figge et al. 2002;
Woodhouse, Howlett & Rigby 2000).
Society has placed priority on natural capital tools despite their shortcomings
because they are easier to understand when describing complex issues. These types
of indicators are increasingly relied on as the economic sector expands to include new
types of capital including soft and intellectual resources. These types of resources
defy conventional accounting but still determine the value of a company that has
moved from production to service (Nahapiet & Ghoshal 1998). This includes tech
industries and businesses that consider themselves part of the green economy. The
problem with tools created by natural capitalism is that they allow for sustainability
as a whole to be easily reduced to score carding to measure new types of capital and
ignore the implications of other relevant features of sustainability including social
justice (Figge et al. 2002).
This highlights the limitations of business perspectives in sustainability
because these tools do not tell us about what Rogers, Jalal and Boyd (2008) describe
as "the problematic relationship among economic growth, human aspirations and the
satisfaction of basic needs." Additionally the tools of natural capitalism do not tell us
about the ethical implications of business methods leading our societys move
towards sustainable practices.
Natural capitalism is championed by Lovins & Lovins, Hawkins, and Lester
Brown. They believe that this framework unites ecology and business by mimicking
natural processes in production industries (Lovins & Lovins 2001). Proponents like
Paul Hawkins believe that to achieve this, market practices should be honored
without governmental interventions stating, We cannot tell companies what to make
and how to make it.. .and the government cannot properly allocate required natural
resources. (Smith 2011:140). The basis of this belief is that through reward systems
for environmental practices or taxation for pollution and waste, companies will self
regulate their output and reduce their environmental impact (Lovins & Lovins 2001).
This assumes that corporations will practice environmental ethics, when in truth they
respond to investors not stakeholders. Moreover, this does not address other
economic implications including a government reliance on money from pollution
taxes as a source of income (Smith 2011). Relying on structures that have
contributed to ecological degradation as solutions to environmental degradation is
Regardless of the discipline, no single discipline is an acceptable
representation for the whole of sustainability. Diversity is necessary for sustainability
but some measure of consistent understanding among disciplines is needed or the
concept of sustainability will continue to be misused and oversimplified in the
debates taking place as our society attempts to find solutions to our problems. A
review of the literature confirms that while disciplines share similar broad
foundational views about sustainability they vary regarding more ideologically
charged issues like how to achieve it. This includes debates that are occurring over
the necessary depth and breadth of action to be taken, the credibility of human-
centered versus eco-centered approaches, as well as the efficiency of technology and
its effect on capitalist systems of production.
Economics is situated in the center of the debate over profitability versus
environment (Schley & Laur 1996). The natural economic stance, for example, is
meant to balance the consumption of the present with that of the future; it assumes
that society uses discounting and does not value the future as much as the present
(Elliot 2005). Within this field, there is a divide between neo-classical economists
who believe that technology can once again make up for resource limits and that
growth is necessary, and eco-economists who believe that a zero growth economy is
required for sustainability and specifically the maintenance of essential resources
(Elliot 2005; Brown et al. 1987). Elliot (2005) summarizes this debate as whether to
find new technology to produce more or to simply consume less.
Economics is limited in its understandings of sustainability and growth
because ground level issues that affect people are easily and sometimes knowingly
left out. Dasgupta (2007) explains that the broad source of data used to measure
phenomena is selected through averages, using very few factors to create models and
forecasts of social and economic phenomena. The data is just too complex. However,
Dasgupta further explains that the decisions to use particular models, historical
narratives, and other tools of the trade to create reports are influenced by schools of
thought. As a result, alternative sources of data and models are left out.
An example of how economics accesses particular schools of thought and
knowingly leaves out indicators is the over reliance on the Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) to define our economic growth. The GDP measures the monetary value of all
finished goods and services within a single countrys borders during a specified time,
usually a year (Investopedia.com 2011). It is worth noting that the GDPs
development was set in motion by Simon Kuznet per the request of the United States
Congress to find out how to deal with the great depression (Bureau of Economic
Analysis [BEA] 2000). That said Simon Kuznet is also the economist who created
the Kuznet curve, which has been proven to be ineffective and create harmful
fallacies about the poor (Rogers, Jalal & Boyd 2008). While the GDP is meant to
measure services, they are only those that are worth monetary value; it does not
account for services like community development, volunteering, and stay at home
moms (BEA 2000). Equally, the GDP does not account for wealth disparities. This
is left to other schools of thought that access measurements like the GINI index to
understand the relationship of income disparity to factors of capitalism (World Bank
Economics is not the only discipline guilty of relying on singular schools of
thought, nor is economics alone in ignoring other indicators. The book Freakanomics
by Steven Levitt, an innovative economist, and Stephen Dubner a prominent
journalist, provides examples of how social phenomenon can be misunderstood by the
removal of certain indicators. One such example includes the rise in crime during
the 1990s in the United States. In attempt to understand the sudden rise analysts
picked variables to predict future patterns of crime rates (Levitt & Dubner 2006: 1).
Ultimately they predicted that rates would increase; they in fact did not. Policy
analysts attributed this to a policy created by the Clinton administration to reduce
crime rates and poverty. This contributed to a fraction of the reduced crime rates, a
different variable altogether explained the drop. After looking at legal cases as a
variable, an interesting explanation occurred in the ruling of Roe V. Wade. The
legalization of abortion in the United States decreased the amount of children entering
a broken foster care system that had produced adults prone to crime.
By only focusing on one set of variables, a major explanation was missed until
someone else from a different school of thought reexamined the data. It is important
to note that purposefully skipping variables isnt all bad. The examination and
reexamination of data is important for theories and schools of thought to mature and
cultivate new ideas. This shows the importance of a multitude of views to understand
complex phenomena like sustainability; a good example of this is in anthropology.
In the social sciences, sustainability has primarily been defined as protecting
cultural continuity, not ecological permanence (Stone 2003; McCabe 2003). Early
anthropological theories often measured the environment empirically as a passive
background to culture. Until Evolutionary Ecology, it was not generally accepted that
cultural changes could effect the environment (Orlove 1980). When the interactions
of social behavior were recognized as being dependent on the environment,
anthropology began to accept the relationship between populations and their
environments (Biersack 1999). However, early approaches were limited to
evolutionary ideas linked to biological processes, not social systems.
Cultural ecology was created by Julian Steward to address the absence of
culture in evolutionary ecology. While Steward is seen as the theorys creator, he
shared in debates with Leslie White regarding cultural ecologys philosophy (Ortner
1984). Stewards ideology was multilinear. This meant that not all societies
experienced similar stages of cultural evolution, and if they did it occurred in
unrelated ways (Steward 1955). Essentially for Steward (2006), cultural ecology is
an effort to explain the construct of behavior uniformities in different culture areas.
(102). This reflects the environment as an external factor, responsible for core
characteristics of a given culture.
Alternatively, White believed that cultural ecology was unilateral. He
believed that culture is the total of human traditions and that this global culture was
evolving (White 1959). White felt this general evolution was specifically related to
the use of technology to capture energy and continue population growth (Ortner
1984). While Steward felt that culture did not come from culture, White felt culture
was a thing in and of itself (White 1987). White believed that this self-producing
culture existed on three levels: technological, social and ideological, and the level of
advancement was related to a communities ability to control energy (White 1959).
While both opened the door for discussions about society and environment, their
work also had limitations.
Building on their work other theorists developed additions to cultural ecology.
In the 1960s, Melvin Harris and Roy Rappaport introduced a systems theory into
cultural ecology, claiming that action is based on the function of customs in relation
to adaptation (Ortner 1984). This is known as cultural materialism, where cultural
patterns reflect infrastructure, structure, and superstructure (Moore 2004). An
example of cultural materialism is the Kaiko ritual. The ritual is a massive pig
slaughter that is used for several social regulations. The Kaiko was used to
compensate allies in wartimes, and honor ancestors. However, it was also a means to
decrease the pig population to reduce stress on the environment and the women who
cared for the pigs, and to provide nutrition and protein to the regional population
(Rappaport 1968; Biersack 2006). These early examples of cultural ecology didnt
capture power relations within these regulatory practices. With the use of macro
theories like political economy, cultural ecology evolved into what is now called
political ecology which bridges local societies and environments to larger systems
including politics and economy.
While Eric Wolf (1972) was the first person to use the term political ecology,
it was officially developed by a geographer named Nietschman who dismissed
Malthusian ideas of dealing with population crisis (Beirsack 2006). Following
Nietschman, Piers Blaikie developed a philosophy within political ecology that
requires the use of geo scales and hierarchies of socio economic status by which
geography is socially constructed and dependent on history (Blaikie & Brookfield
1986). The primary questions within the discipline include whether social
constructions and history can be removed from agency, and if ontology should be flat
or vertical. Purcell and Brown (2005) argue that the politics of geo scales always
leads to the misguided focus of local level preference, when in fact geography is
extensive (Purcell & Brown 2005). However, the local level is equally important
because political ecology looks at relationships between extensive global systems and
local ecological communities
In anthropology, political ecology looks slightly different. While cultural
ecology favored adaption, understanding power is central to political ecology
(Friedman 1974). Additionally, in comparison to political economy, political ecology
focuses on agency over structure (Biersack 2006). Using theories like political
ecology, anthropology has been useful in linking culture to the environment through
its understanding of structural power and human agency, and has improved the
visibility of social justice as necessary component of sustainability. The discipline
however, has still not claimed its place at the table to influence the legitimate
implementation of sustainability in policy and practice (Stone 2003). In order to do
so its important for anthropology to continue to look outside of its own ideas and
work with other disciplines to understand systems that affect ecological communities.
Agriculture and energy production are two important systems of provision in
the world that are discussed in a variety of disciplines including those represented in
this study. They each became important issues in sustainability when in the 60s and
70s researchers began to examine technology (i.e pesticides and nuclear power) that
was harmful to the environment (Brown et al. 1987; Home 2008). Today agriculture
is described as alternative agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and organic agriculture
(Home 2008). While energy has moved to debates about the use of hydrogen cells,
biofuel, and the use of renewable energy technology to provide wind and solar power.
In agriculture, sustainability is also seen as the management of systems to
maintain productivity and renewable stocks in the face of external disturbances
(Brown et al. 1987). This includes creating genetic diversity through balances of
conservation and organic application. Sustainable agriculture and organic farming
include many components. Soil management is one of the most important, requiring a
balance of nutrients including nitrogen for crops to grow (Watson et al. 2002).
Experts in disciplines that deal with sustainable agriculture suggest a variety of
methods that can be used to attain this balance including no till efforts, composting,
crop rotation, polyculture planting, weed management, a reduction in the use of
genetically modified seed, and other conservation efforts (Gold 2011; Watson et al.
2002; Weisman 2007).
In energy production, sustainability is the movement from non-renewable
sources (fossil fuels) to renewable sources in a way that is not taxing on an economy
(Brown et al. 1987). With growing ecological degradation, there has been an
emphasis on energy use in policy and action. Our over reliance on finite resources
like fossil fuels and coal for powering industry, production, transportation and
residential use is an important issue (International Energy Agency [IEA] 2007; Kiss,
Dimian & Rothenberg 2006; Goldemberg 2007). Developing renewable energy is
important to many disciplines yet dealing with pollution and waste created by current
methods of energy production other ideas promoted by interdisciplinary research
needs to be included.
In urban planning, sustainability started with the concept of appropriate
technology through urban ecology in urban renewal initiatives (Roseland 1997). More
recently, planning suggests urban ecologists do two things 1) apply technology that
fits within the local levels capabilities and 2) recognize that humans must be
integrated back into nature with an appreciation of nature for natures sake in order to
avoid entropy and degradation (Jepson 2001). As Jepson points out, there must be a
local level understanding of needs and equitable action not just across generations
(Intergenerational Equity) but also the needs of people living across borders
(Intragenerational Equity). Planning and engineering have begun to incorporate
philosophies that address local level integration of meeting human needs. Though
planning does not fully tackle issues of definitional understandings or ethics of
environmentalism, which can leave sustainability open for manipulation to meet
needs that are counter intuitive to sustainability.
The use of sustainability in ecology works towards the protection and the
conservation of genetic bio-diversity, to ensure continued productivity of natural
biological processes and eco-systems (Brown et al. 1987). In ecology, sustainability
is discussed through a six root approach that includes foci on carrying capacity,
technological critiques, biospheres, resource environments, ecological development,
and no growth/slow growth resource management (Brown et al. 1987). Ecology
alone does not capture the social and economic elements that create a holistic
understanding of sustainability. All disciplines involved in sustainability attempt to
approach sustainability with the best of intentions. Each believing their own set of
assumptions and methods works when trying to create sustainable outcomes. This
belief has created a number of politicized debates that affect all sustainable initiatives
regardless of the discipline.
Debates About Sustainability
There are many terms that are used to describe different debates, weak and
soft, deep and shallow, the debate in economics between neoclassical and eco-
economics (see page 28 for discussion), and ecocentrism versus technocentrism.
Ecocentrism and technocentrism being the words developed by Timothy ORiordan
in the late 80s to offset the implications of politically charged words like weak and
deep when describing factions of sustainability (Palmer 1998). Regardless, all of
these terms come down to the same issue: the social, economic, and environmental
costs of achieving sustainability. Each of the previous terms belongs to one side of
the same coin when talking about sustainability. The debate over costs of
sustainability encapsulates another issue and that is whether sustainability should be
human-centered or planet-centered. This is exemplified in the theoretical and
philosophical differences between shallow and deep ecology.
Shallow ecology includes actions towards sustainability that do not question
the ideological principles of a given culture. Shallow ecology encompasses efforts to
recycle because landfills are overfilled, or to buy hybrid cars to move away from
fossil fuels but does not change the status quo, actions that are human-centered and
done to maintain nature for human use (Naess & Sessions 1995). By contrast, deep
ecology goes to the heart of our worlds environmental and social issues and directly
questions our behavior and the ways our actions impact or create social and
environmental problems (Naess & Sessions 1995; Snyder 1995).
Deep ecology demands that culture and behavior are included and identifies a
seven-step program of personal and spiritual responsibility to the environment
including: Life, Nature, Human in/and nature, No false distance, Outside change,
Inside change and Spread of ideas (Rothenburg 1995; Naess & Sessions 1995).
Those who practice deep ecology believe that by changing peoples minds to value
the natural world, it will rectify their actions that have led to the capitalist dominion
of nature and value nature for natures sake (Naess & Sessions 1995; Snyder 1995).
Ultimately deep ecology states that our separation from nature is a result of the Judeo-
Christian and empirical traditions that validate human dominion over nature, and
traditions in science that measure the environment as mechanistic and easily
manipulated (Jepson 2001).
Critics discuss the use of deep vs. shallow ecology in the debate on
sustainability as a false divergence (Palmer 2008). They ask what the terms deep and
shallow even mean in a debate of valuation of nature and humanity. These critics
believe that a more anthropocentric verbiage is necessary and use the terms strong
and weak sustainability to inform the debate. Strong sustainability similar to eco-
economics assumes that for humanity to survive there can be no tradeoff between
economic gain and environmental quality (Neumayer 2003: 24). Weak sustainability
presupposes that environmental quality has monetary value, and can be traded for
profit (Neumayer 2003: 22). Ultimately the two debates stand for the same issues the
difference is that the dynamic between deep and shallow ecology is ecocentric and
requires major changes in belief and action where as the dichotomy between strong
and weak sustainability is technocratic and in the end maintains the status quo.
The terms used to describe these debates fall under two categories,
technocentrism and ecocentrism (Turner 2005). Ecocentrism insists that ecological
morality be imposed to control human behavior (ORiordan 1989). This means that
there must be a redistribution of access and resources along with a sense of justice for
the environment. Literature suggests that ecocentrism is divided into two categories:
communalists and those that follow gaianism (Palmer 1998; ORiordan 1989).
According to a cross-sectional public survey, .1-3% of the environmental movements
participants are part of the ecocentrism sub category, Gaianism, and believe in the
intrinsic right of nature (Milbrath 1984; ORiordan 1989; Palmer 1998). 5-10% of
respondents in Milbraths survey self-identified as belonging to the communalist sub
category who ascribe to the faith that society can assemble a self reliant structure
using cooperation and appropriate technology. Additionally, technocentrism is
divided into two groupings of ideologies: intervention, and accommodation.
Accommodation is based on the work of J.K. Galbraith (1988) and T. Roszak (1969).
Accommodation accounts for 50-70% of the population who believe in adaptability
of institutions to accommodate the environment. Milbraths survey shows that
interventionism accounts for 10-35% of the population and is comprised of those in
business and finance. Interventionism is based on the work of Simon and Kahn
(1984) who support the limitless capacity of people, when free to seek potential, to
exploit the Earth to improve the public welfare. This sub category is made up of
individuals who believe that the application of science and the market will solve
environmental issues. Both of these categories do not upset the status quo but
demand some accountability and responsiveness to environmental issues (ORourdan
Technocentrism and other ideologies, including weak sustainability, shallow
ecology, and neoclassic economics, dominate in discourse about sustainability
(Palmer 1998). They are easier to understand and require less sacrifice than other
ideologies, however the continuation of the status quo is not advantageous in the end.
These accepted philosophies also do not force people to think about or act on the
ethical issues that are skimmed over by technocratic tenets. This includes the
definition of quality, environmental responsibility, and human needs, which creates
large roadblocks when attempting to create real sustainable outcomes. The following
section discusses the increased public awareness about sustainability as well as the
pursuit of global scientific communities to resolve some of the previously discussed
debates and the ethics surrounding them. Concurrently, the problem with a one-sided
emphasis on technocratic ideologies is highlighted through the manipulation of well-
intentioned efforts to solve the worlds problem at environmental mega conferences.
Environmental Mega Conferences, Implications
for Sustainable Action
In the face of global environmental and man made disasters environmental mega
conferences were planned to address issues of sustainability. Public awareness about
sustainability has increased in part due to the frequency of environmental mega conferences
sponsored by the UN since 1972. For many they are capable of producing some means to
action, and mutual understanding but for others they are a symptom if not a handmaiden of
unsustainable development (Seyfang & Jordan 2002). The history of these global meetings
has been one of revelation and obstruction.
In the face of global environmental and man made disasters The first was the
1972, United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) held in
Stockholm, Sweden (Seyfang & Jordan 2002; USD 2010). This was followed by
several other conferences including: The Rio Earth Summit (1992), The World
Summit For Social Development in (1995), The UN Millennium Development Goals
(2000), The World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South
Africa, better known as Jokeburg (2002); The Kyoto Protocol (2005), and the
Copenhagen Climate Negotiations (2009) (Pring 2002). Each conference was meant
to address unique issues and tie up loose ends from the previous meeting (Grubb et al
1993). Instead, they dealt with a host of internal problems including corporate
sponsorship and the exclusion of voices from less developed countries (LDCs) and
the global environmental society (Fisher 2010).
In the book Earth Summit, biz, the Corporate Takeover of Sustainable
Development, authors Kenny Bruno and Joshua Karliner discuss the move to a
doctrine of environmental politics dominated by corporations at the meetings in Rio.
They discuss the manipulation of transnational corporations to avoid regulations and
codes created by international governing bodies like the UN. Maurice Strong, a
wealthy organizer of the Stockholm Summit, hired corporate advisors, put the World
Bank in charge of the UNCED convention funds, and found over 50 transnational
companies including DOW Chemical and Mitsubishi to sponsor the summit (Bruno &
When Strong was chastised by the global environmental society for allowing
sustainable development to be redefined by corporate expectations that were the root
of environmental problems, his response was
The environment is not going to be saved by
environmentalists...environmentalists do not hold the levers of
economic power. (Bruno & Karliner 2002:22).
The leadership of the summits based on corporate inclusion spurred the UN
Center of Transnational Corporations to develop guidelines on corporate involvement
when drafting initiatives. The guidelines were rejected by Strong and after pressure
on the UN to be business friendly, UN official Boutros Boutros Ghali announced that
his budget would no longer include UNTC.
Bruno and Karliner (2002) explain that the main points of sustainability under
the influence of corporate undertakings furthered by the disintegration of the UNTC
are 1) Market forces must be unleashed to promote economic growth, making free
trade a prerequisite for sustainability. 2) Pricing mechanisms will correct economic
distortions in order to reflect environmental costs. 3) Self-regulation is best for
corporations to be sustainable. 4) More changes in technology and managerial
practices are required. These points were first developed at the first Earth Summit in
Rio when Stephen Schmidheiny published the book Changing Course, a global
business perspective on development and the environment, a business gospel of
World Business Council for Sustainable Development rhetoric.
Changing Course quickly became a tool of capitalist green washing, which
paints corporations as part of the solution while skirting the central issue of their
unsustainable impact on the environment (Bruno & Karliner 2002). This redirection
of sustainability has led to stronger emphasis on the human centered ideologies
discussed in previous sections of this literature search. The emphasis on
technocentrism by global corporations is, in part, the reason sustainable development
has become an oxymoron, and sustainability is becoming an empty term easily
manipulated but unsustainable interests
Ultimately, this string of conferences has led to the manipulation of
sustainability by the political chess match between the alliance of corporate and
national interests and the appeals of grassroots movements supported by the UN
(Bruno & Kerliner 2002).
The fact is, the process of having these conferences has lasted for forty years and at
best, mega conferences reprocess old ideas from previous conferences that have failed
(Death 2008). Conferences make environmental issues visible as the worlds leaders
converge on cities to find solutions to our problems. Yet, the perception of these
meetings is tainted with political strongholds and corporate power plays that directly
conflict with sustainable outcomes. Because of this, an emphasis on economics has
overshadowed what is necessary to create environmental governance. Sustainability
and sustainable development have been reconfigured to advance profits over the
environment, and with the merging of national and corporate interests, the
environmental movement has been green-washed.
Green Washing, Examples of Sustainabilitys
Green-washing techniques in capitalism have been used to keep consumption
relevant by turning environmentalism into an advertising ploy to generate consumer
loyalty for corporate brands that appear to be green despite unsustainable practices.
Sustainability has become something to market to consumers instead of an action plan
for achieving balance between economic and social well being, as well as sound
environmental management. IBM is an example of a company that has capitalized on
sustainability. Profits have risen by 20% in the last year despite the economy and the
corporation has launched a series of commercials that showcase involvement in
various industries (business management, healthcare, utility provision and so on) that
are dependent on IBMs sustainable smart grid technology (IBM Advertising a, b, c
2009; IBM Fourth-Quarter and Full Year Results 2010). While IBM has been
involved in sustainable efforts like in-house recycling as far back as 1992 (Postel
1992), they have just begun to market that aspect of operations because now
sustainability has consumer value.
Additionally, corporations attempt to gain consumer support using corporate social
responsibility (CSR). CSR is a green washing tool that is used by businesses to provide or
develop infrastructure and capital for sustainable initiatives, despite the continuation of
unsustainable practices that contribute to environmental degradation, in order to provide a
product (Hamman & Acutt 2003). For example, General Electric envisions a clean coal
future yet extends bids to cheaply construct mines by blowing off mountaintops and
dumping the waste in valleys, disrupting clean sources of water (Beinecke 2009). Wal-Mart
creates a division for sustainable affairs but contributes to the destruction of local businesses
anywhere near one of their superstores (PBS 2009). Automobile companies produce hybrids
and fund hydrogen fuel cells but cut efficient electric car production (Pain, 2006). Water
providers put out campaigns to slow municipal water use but continue to dam and divert
water (Pitt 2001). Water bottling companies design more efficient and environmental
responsible bottles with less plastic, but harm local populations eco-systems around the
world through water extraction. The conglomerate Nestle is an example of a corporation
that has caused environmental and social damage through its extraction efforts on the White
River in Michigan, the Wacissa River in Florida, the Arkansas River in Colorado and the
municipal water supply in Sacramento (Blevins 2009; Ruffin 2009; Salina 2008).
It is important to recognize that there are companies that actively commit to
improving the environment and equity. This includes 1% For the Planet, a community of
businesses dedicated to environmental stewardship. These are companies whose owners
have built their corporations with sustainable values. This includes an understanding of the
limits of natural resources and their responsibility to other people to practice fair business
practices (1% For the Planet). Some major businesses including New Belgium Brewing
Company (the nations 3rd largest beer distributer) are working to limit their negative impact
on the environment and to contribute to greater equity of local and global populations
(Williams 2008). However, many issues in business including a consumption and
distribution of resources in a green economy affect societys ability to become sustainable.
As a professor in anthropology, stated there is still something fundamentally contradictory
with the push to make sustainability a growth industry (Koester, S. Personal Interview
In the 2010 State of the World Report, the World Watch Institute stated that
consumerism as a tsunami that has engulfed human cultures and ecosystems...if
unaddressed will create global disaster, but if channeled properly can assist sustainable
initiatives. (1). The implications of consumption and commercialism are extremely large.
It affects our current and future ability to become sustainable in the face of economic order.
We need to have a critical population, that approaches sustainability with cooperation,
curiosity, reasoning, empathy, and other competencies required of democratic populace
(Linn 2010). To combat the societal emphasis on consumption and economic centered
sustainability the focus needs to be on environmental education at all levels.
The Role of Environmental Education
Education has always played a role in social changes and the move towards
sustainability is no different (Stephens et al. 2008). Education needs to occur at all
levels to address global issues and to promote values and practices that inform
sustainability. Some of the worlds most well known environmental reports including
the Brundtland Report and Agenda 21 agree stating that education is the greatest
resource to achieving just society and that education is critical for social change (Fien
& Tilbury 2002). Despite the emphasis on education as an agent of change, it is not
void of debate or conflict. Education has been manipulated and used to create
inequality through archaic educational ideologies that remove critical thinking.
However, through a renegotiation of educations role, innovation can occur through
what Stephens et al. (2008) call a delta knowledge built on social contribution.
The original intention of education was to disseminate knowledge, particularly
theology and philosophy (alpha science) but with the Enlightenment, knowledge
became something to be discovered (Stephens et al. 2008). The natural sciences (beta
science) became dominant and the use of scientific method upheld the rigor of
knowledge production and distribution and with the rise of disparity and social
discord, the social sciences (gamma science) followed (Stevens 2002; Stephens et al.
2008). The creation of positivism, reductionism, and empiricism through the
scientific method has led to a long standing hegemonic set of westernized educational
standards that created a model of school systems that served an economic and
political function (Clover 2002; Stevenson 2002).
There has always been a debate about whether people are empty vessels that
can be filled with knowledge, or if people have natural qualities that can be molded
by disciplines (Orr 2010). The first of these philosophies is the one that has been
dominant in our modem society and has led to the use of schools as political vehicles.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created policy that rewarded schools
for following guidelines to increase focus on methods that did not contribute to
democratic education. This was emphasized in order to create a common culture of
skilled workers capable of competing with other rising countries to have the most
economically viable and productive country (Stevenson 2002). These philosophies
are in direct contrast to sustainability through the emphasis on short-term profits at
the expense of the environment and the exploitation of the skilled working class
(Shea 1989). This does not contribute to a democratic society capable of solving the
worlds crises but instead continues the cycles of social and economic inequality that
contribute to global issues.
This model of education as filling an empty vessel is outdated and new
models of education are emerging (Orr 2010). The question is what this new wave of
knowledge will be. Regardless of what delta science ends up being the
epistemological shift will be used to cope with solutions that lead to the betterment of
our society in the face of complex problems, it will be a move towards education as
social contribution (Stephens et al. 2008). This new form of knowledge must
promote systems that emphasize connections, cross-disciplinary work, indigenous and
local level knowledge, the development of relationships across the different levels of
management within higher education and most importantly the unification of
knowledge and action (Shiva 1989; Fien & Tilbury 2002, Stevenson 2002; Stephens
et al. 2008). All of these things are necessary for the success of interdisciplinary
Those involved in teaching sustainability at universities grappled with
definitions of environmental constructs like sustainability and sustainable
development. Some still approached it from the natural sciences but others felt it was
necessary to focus on social issues like health, quality of life, consumption, and fair
trade (Clover 2002). Focusing on social issues challenged the assumptions of the
dominant empty vessel discourse surrounding education (Fien & Tilbury 2002).
Educators who embraced the inclusion of social science pushed back against the
reductionist and technocratic modes of western science, and led to a split of
ideologies when approaching environmental education.
Palmer discusses these ideologies in her book, Environmental Education in
the 21st Century, The first mode of environmental education is Sustainable
Livelihood Development. This mode is reflective of ecocentrism and seeks to meet
peoples basic needs through sustainable resource use and appropriate technology. It
challenges the status quo with new ideas about economics and society. The second
mode is sustainable growth. This is a technocentric ideology that seeks reform but
maintenance of the status quo. In this mode the emphasis is on expert management of
systems and technologies to make things more efficient rather than sustainable.
Within these modes there are several approaches to sustainable development
that are taught in environmental education. This includes the reform approaches that
emphasize fast technological fixes, similar to neoclassical economics, as the means to
solve problems (ORourdan 1981). The political approach discusses the use of policy
to reduce human impacts on the environment. Policy changes are what are believed
to create sound preservation practices within the scope of development (Palmer
2002). There are also more radical approaches including the socially critical
approach that states that environmental problems are a symptom of larger societal
problems including unequal distribution of and access to natural resources (Huckle
1983). There is also the alternative approach, which advocates for a pre-industrial
society, a closer relationship to nature and emphasis on self-sufficiency (Palmer
The approaches taught in environmental education are representative of the
larger philosophical debates occurring in the general literature about sustainability.
Education then becomes dependent on the ideologies that are subjectively valued by
those teaching them. Ideologies are equally informed by the events occurring in the
scientific communities that exist outside of academia including the outcomes of
environmental mega conferences (Wright 2002). The definitions of sustainability by
universities are therefore value laden by the selected sources used to inform them
(Hopkins & Mckeown 2002). This creates discord for students who take away
disciplinary concepts of sustainability to inform their professional work, continuing
the academic tower of Babel. The ambiguity and conflict present in attempts to
define issues of sustainability creates a sense of nihilism that there is no charted
course towards a future of consensus (Orr 2010:82). Though the same debates occur
and the same frustrations develop within academic institutions, the role of the
university in sustainability is extremely important.
According to Stephens et al. (2008), universities are important for knowledge
production that can synthesize different types of information to advance
environmental education. Zilahy and Huisingh (2009) discuss the role of universities
in their study as prime social capital and movers that can stimulate action across
disciplines. Universities can act as change agents because they can model sustainable
practices in ways that are meaningful for policy makers and the public (Moffat 2000;
Shields, Solar & Martin 2002; Stephens et al. 2008). They can teach students skills
to approach complex problems and they can use participatory, community-based
research to integrate and engage communities outside of academia (Stephens et al.
2008). By accessing universities to define sustainability, the liberalization of
education can be used to increase opportunities for communities dealing with
The implementation of environmental education aimed at sustainability has
increased exponentially. Nearly every major university has a program that is
dedicated to sustainability (Stephens et al. 2008). Efforts to include sustainability
have been ongoing since the 1960s; Williams College, Middlebury, Brown, and Tufts
being some of the first, and in the 90s the Talloires declaration had been signed by 22
university presidents (Orr 2010). The Talloires declaration was pledge by university
signatories to commit to the infusion of sustainability in higher education (Wright
2002). As of 2008, 360 international university heads have signed that document and
UNESCO has assigned sustainability chairs to 45 of those universities (Orr 2010). It
is important to remember that despite the increased demand for sustainability
programs universities face some major challenges.
Sustainability requires that education be interdisciplinary. The Brundtland
Report, Our Common Future states education should provide comprehensive
knowledge that cuts across social and natural sciences and humanities (UN
1987:96). Yet, interdisciplinary efforts called for in the report conflict with
traditional styles of teaching (Palmer 2002). Everything in higher education is
disciplinary. Tenure requirements, the expectation of professors to teach abstract
discipline based theory, rewards for journal publication and faculty promotions for
specialization all marginalize and undermine change (Orr 2010; Stephens et al. 2008).
Additionally, the disciplinary structure of universities does not reward public
engagement or interdisciplinary work and this interferes with the necessary flexibility
required to teach sustainability (Palmer 2002). Equally, there is an issue of finances.
With the recent economic problems in our world the capacity to receive public
money to fund sustainability programs has diminished. Universities are forced into
competition and are pressured to take private funding (Deresiewicz 2011). By
accepting private funding, a stratified system of unequal distribution of funds exists
between research that is perceived as valuable and that which is not (Stephens et al.
2008). There is also concern that the reliance on this funding will alter project
outcomes to fit the interest of private companies. For example in 2007 British
Petroleum, an oil company, created the Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley where
stakeholders became suspicious of the ability to conduct independent research free of
BPs bias (Stephens et al. 2008).
In the book Sustainability on Campus, Stories, and Strategies for Change
authors Barlett and Chase (2004) discuss several of afore mentioned barriers but they
also mention other institutional barriers. This includes disciplinary boundaries, as
well as encouraging students to view learning as more than acquired knowledge.
They also identify finances available through university colleges and the need for
colleges to have a committed staff as necessary resources that have been lacking.
These barriers are not the only representation of sustainability on college campuses
there are successes too.
Barriers serve as points of information to improve actions being taken to
include sustainability in universities. Universities are successfully implementing
sustainability in physical operations, interdisciplinary work, research, and public
outreach to create an ecological literate and morally obligated student and faculty
body (Wright 2002). There are many examples of successful executions of
environmental education on campuses around the country.
Despite different paths towards accomplishments, universities have used
personal relationships and interdisciplinary collaboration to overcome institutional
barriers and strengthen education programs (Jahiel & Harper 2004). Unique methods
including shared leadership, defining diverse goals, the use of persistence and
spontaneity are used to create trust in education initiatives aimed at sustainability
(Barlett & Chase 2004). When that trust is built education flourishes with committed
faculty, imaginative leadership and student involvement with respect to social change
Examples of some successful outcomes include 1) the newly formed School
of Sustainability at Arizona State University, 2) the implementation of requirements
for environmental literacy for all graduates regardless of discipline or degree program
at Oakland Community College, and 3) the interdisciplinary work led by physicists at
the University of California, Berkeley to develop campus wide sustainable
infrastructure (Rowe 2004; Noorgard 2004; Stephenson et al. 2008). Not all
initiatives are as broad as the ones implemented at these schools. Some of the
sustainable education endeavors taken up at other schools are small in scale. This
includes finding new ways of securing funding for specific programs or developing
curriculum for a single class (Bowden and Pallant 2004; Edelstein 2004; Delind &
Sustainability has what Edelstein (2004) calls a threshold, after a certain
amount of success at a university the institutionalization of a mission that includes
sustainability is inevitable. Before this occurs there is a learning capacity that must
be reached, unlikely allies must be sought out, and interdisciplinary work must
become the standard. All of the schools mentioned above and the many others that
have achieved success were able to do so through a multitude of context specific
pathways that led to more environmentally enlightened individuals and an integrated
campus (Jenks-Jay 2004:297).
These new models show that the schools are poised to shift their educational
approaches to prepare students for life instead of skilled work (Stephens et al. 2008).
Universities are ready to embrace change and comprise, they are ready to emerge
from entrenched disciplinary positions to tackle global issues (Hopkins & McKeown
2002). The transition from technocratic and privatized domination in education is
being chiseled away to make room for students and faculty who want to create new
sets of values that encourage respect for nature and other people.
If the debates surrounding the issue of how to enact sustainability are so
cyclically complex then why bother? It is possible that sustainability is simply a
band-aid if not a catalyst for destructive green washing methods that exacerbate the
problems our world faces (Jabareen 2005). It is also possible that it is an oxymoron, a
symbolic rhetoric that redefines change to fit political needs and fails to resolve the
debates in environmental ethics (Rios-Osorio et al. 2005).
While there are many inherent flaws with the definitions and understandings
of sustainability, it is still the option available and therefore, it is important to keep it
from becoming just another unrealized and manipulated term like appropriate
technology or environmental quality (Jepson 2001). Sustainable development and
sustainability are evolving concepts that require a constant effort to reconceptualize
and reflect on the terms (Stephens et al. 2008; Palmer 2002). As new science and
social implications are uncovered, it becomes important then to encourage on-going
dialogue about sustainability.
The various fields at work in sustainability share the same goals for continued
support of human existence and the persistent quality of the environment (Brown et
al. 1987). The suggestions of how to meet these goals overlap but are never
indistinguishable, no single field can act alone (Eliot 2005; Shields, Solar & Martin
2002). Laws et al. (2004) explains that knowledge and action exist together as a
desire to change the world, to interact and exchange information with ones
environment, to create mutual learning through transaction and to transform values
through knowledge implementation. Demanding that the lines of communication in
interdisciplinary work stay open and developing concrete understandings of how
people overlap and oppose one another in their views about sustainability will help to
keep the concept from being used to mask the degradation of our planet and its
The goal of this project is to assist in developing a process to unify the concept of
sustainability at UCD. It is not meant to find another vague overarching definition. By
listening to the narratives and disciplinary definitions of participants, the project uncovers
what is valued, through the experiential and personal construction of disciplinary, and
hopefully interdisciplinary, ideologies in the context of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences. In the presentation of the findings below, I hope to start a new dialogue that can
help the participants and the programs they have invested in adapt and survive. Reflection
on learning and experience creates new understandings of educational practices. Stories are
embedded with individual worldviews and assumptions about what concepts like
development, progress, and sustainability actually are.
As the literature search has shown, sustainability and sustainable
development are terms that have been defined in a variety of ways. Sometimes this
variation can be detrimental to sustainable outcomes. At other times, that variation is
necessary to avoid using rigid approaches, which are unable to adapt to the
complexity of the world. This incorporates the manipulation of sustainable concepts
through economic practices, including capitalism and consumption that are
counterintuitive to sustainability. In order to combat this misuse the literature shows
that universities are important institutions of social capital that can help overcome
barriers that sustainability faces.
In order to overcome barriers it is necessary to understand initiatives, projects,
or collaborations with indicators. This thesis uses the most commonly known
indicators: environment, economy and equity, also called the three es, as domains of
understanding as well as a priori coding devices to organize the findings by the
(Rogers, Jalal & Boyd 2008). However, other domains were created inductively
through the process of analysis. The Global Development Research Center has
included two new e's: education, and evaluation. Education is defined as the life long
commitment of people and organizations to create authentic choices for action
intended to affect sustainability by expanding their knowledge through learning.
Evaluation is the measurement of program outcomes to find indicators that allow for
improvement in existing programs that show signs of success. Sustainability also
requires the understanding of culture and personal relationships to environmentalism.
Equity includes issues of culture through its emphasis on social justice at the local,
regional and global level, but it does not seem cover the individualized level of
experience that shapes approaches to and the exaction of sustainability. As studying
up and the ethnography of public policy displays, those affected by social injustices
are visible, it is the people who draft initiatives and policy regarding sustainability
who are invisible and need to be focused on (Gusterson 1997; Wedel et al 2005).
This includes the academic sphere.
Osario et al. (2005) show that the manifestation of culture is extremely
important to the ways in which development and sustainability are interpreted.
Equally, cultural approaches to sustainability depend on a preselected scientific
domain or cosmovision from which they are analyzed. Based on this proposition it is
necessary to add one more E, Ethos. Ethos is the inclusion and reflection of personal
experiences and motivating factors that have led individuals to become involved in
teaching or enacting sustainability and sustainable development.
As a student enrolled in an environmental education program at UCD, I felt
the best place to start with this kind of reflection was with the people teaching courses
on sustainability. A students ability to understand complex issues about the
relationship between environment and culture is in the hands of those teaching
courses, and the backgrounds from which they subjectively developed their
curriculum. This became evident in conversations with other students who were
engaged in courses in different disciplines or programs that emphasized different
ideas about sustainability than what I experienced. The multiplicity of approaches
was also directly reflected in the comments made by a key informant who expressed
concern about the future of sustainability at UCD when considering unmatched
ideologies between various faculty members interested in developing curriculum on
topics of sustainability.
There are a handful of sustainability-oriented programs at UCD, however, the
College of Liberal Arts stood out. CLAS houses the sustainability minor, an
interdisciplinary program that is open to any undergraduate in any discipline on
campus. The sustainability minor was built through the hard work of various faculty
involved in some aspect of sustainability in their research, teaching, and/or service.
As one handout for the CLAS Sustainability Minor states, the diverse membership of
the signature area has created an interdisciplinary combination of trends in science,
history, philosophy and culture with which to frame sustainability (Brett et al. 2008).
The university and the college have provided support for this interdisciplinary
collaborative by taking the curriculum developed by faculty for the sustainability
minor and elevating it into a signature area.
In definition, participants define the three Es, environment, equity, and
economy, similarly through the signature areas adoption of the Brundtland Report.
Ideologically, individuals in the group approach each E differently and with different
weights of importance. According to one key informant there is no agreed upon
framework from which to develop curriculum that unifies the various ideologies
present among faculty. Additionally, there has been no systematic evaluation of the
program beyond the limited efforts of one administrator. Interviews conducted for
this thesis with sustainability faculty and one CLAS administrator help to address this
This section presents a deep narrative of participants ideologies about
sustainability or sustainable development. They address issues of capitalism,
technology, and behavior as they pertain to the environment, economics, and equity.
The interviews yield suggestions for improving green education on campus, the
improvement of sustainable practices in physical operations, and highlight the
proposed 6th E, Ethos to understand at least in part, the personal experiences that lead
an individual to include sustainability in their work.
As seen in the literature, participants hold varied emphases on each E, and at
times emphasis on particular approaches comes from surprising sources and
conflicting perspectives. All participants share a sense of urgency and recognize the
importance of multiple perspectives. However, their narratives are theoretically
informed by their disciplines and their experiences hold a valuable link to where their
understandings of sustainability are located.
The signature group, from which participants were recruited, contains
membership from chemistry, biology, geography, and political science to name a few.
Despite the inclusion of most departments that are relevant to the topic of
sustainability, the minor was actually built out of the anthropology department. In a
conversation with a former UCD professor from anthropology, I learned that this has
been nearly ten years in the making and that the foundation rests on anthropology's
sustainable development track in its Master's program. The end goal was to create the
sustainability minor, then a degree program, and eventually a PhD. However, a lack
of financial and human capital (labor) prevented that from becoming a reality.
Ultimately, development plans for the minor were presented to the larger group that
made up the Sustainability Signature Area to design the program.
This former employee expressed that this was something that the
transition from minor to PhD may never happen and that already the minor and the
signature area were facing some large barriers. These barriers included the lack of
financial support from upper administration, barriers of trust between professors
outside of the program cross-listing courses without approval and other members
leaving the group to start other projects that seemed counterproductive to the original
goals for the group. In addition to what the informant called, perennial problems'
there was frustration with the construction of the group's structure which led to
decreased participation. He explained that in the development of the group's
parameters, the turnover in upper administration contributed to a lack of trust.
Additionally, the ideas or projects with the most funding were emphasized by the
university, as models for what sustainability should look like on campus. Finally, this
professor cited the tension created by the fundamental bickering over the definition
of sustainability which left out points that other members felt were important to
consider including fetishism, consumption and human connection.
With the urging of one prominent faculty member the group agreed on
using the Brundtland Report as its base for framing sustainability (Brett et al. 2008).
The agreement on using this definition however, does not capture the depth of ideas
carried by participants in the signature area. The fundamental lack of agreement
despite compromise lays the foundation for why it is important to look at how
principal actors approach sustainability.
I approached five key players who were involved in sustainability at UCD.
Four have taught in CLAS and been involved with the Sustainability Signature Area.
One worked outside of CLAS, however this person was occasionally identified on
attendance reports from Sustainability Signature Area meetings. Additionally this
particular participant was identified by the others as a very visible and prominent
person in sustainable initiatives at UCD.
All of the participants are actively involved to some degree in sustainability
through physical or social science. The level of involvement differs between outright
activism, applied research, and academic knowledge production. The blend of ideas
that exist between participants illustrates the different understandings as well as
overlapping ways in which sustainability is talked about. It is important to note that
in these interviews the disciplinary perceptions of participants seem to connect to
individual life experiences that influenced them to enter their respective fields of
which they are identified by in this thesis. To help understand the context of their
statements in the sections that follow an abbreviation of their discipline is used.
Greg Cronin (BIO) was chosen as a representative of biology. Greg is an
associate professor and has served as the chair of his department. His interests
include applied aquatic ecology and aquaponics. He is actively involved with
sustainability on campus including the implementation of sustainable infrastructures
on campus, and is an advocate for community building. Greg is involved with the
sustainability student group in planning the UCD sustainability fair and serves on the
Auraria Campus Sustainability Advisory, as well as the UCD Chancellors Task
Force for Sustainability.
Steve Koester (ANTH) is the participant selected from anthropology. He is
also a tenured professor who at the time of the study was serving as the anthropology
departments chair and as the director of the sustainability minor. He has a history of
studying social inequality and health. His work has centered on the spread of
intravenous/blood bom disease and the economic and environmental impacts faced by
populations in the Caribbean.
The selected representative from public policy is Kathryn Cheever (POLI).
She is a tenured professor who has interests in public policy making, interagency
collaboration, urban administration, administrative law, and the role of community-
based organizations in addressing urban social problems. She has taught courses
including politics, public policy, and leadership, U.S. health policy, politics of the
budgetary process, research methodology, conflict resolution, and public consent
building. Kathryn has also taught courses for the sustainability minor and is the
current director of the Center for New Directions.
Rafael Moreno (GEOG), the final representative from CLAS, is from
geography. He is an associate professor with fourteen years experience teaching,
including courses in the sustainability minor. His research interests are in natural
resources management, land use planning, sustainable development, and geographic
information science and technology. This includes the use of Open Source Software
and Web-based Geographic Information Systems. Rafael has had administrative and
applied experience as researcher for the National Institute for Forest, Livestock, and
Agriculture Research and as the director of the National Center for Disciplinary
Research in Conservation and Improvement of Forest Ecosystems in Mexico.
The final participant is Anu Ramaswami. She was identified by others as a
necessary person to speak with outside of CLAS in the engineering department. She
is a tenured professor whose interests are in environmental engineering,
bioremediation and sustainability. She has been nominated by the National Science
Foundation (NSF) to be a part of the International Expert Group for the Global
Science Forum GSF-OECD Mapping Activity and she is the director of both the NSF
funded IGERT program and the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems.
In the sections to follow participants ideologies about economics, equity,
environment, and the universitys ability to implement sustainable initiatives and
environmental education are relayed though the summarization of narratives. This
means that the narratives, while edited, are unpacked for the reader, and include more
detail from conversations to more deeply understand the narrative (Hammersley &
Atkinson 1983). There are condensed participant profiles (Appendices F-J) that
highlight key statements or points from the findings section. The miniature profiles
do not include summaries of the ethos section because I felt that condensing them
beyond the initial analysis would take away from the distinctiveness and personality
of each participants statement about ethos.
Narratives of participants are presented in sections starting with definition of
sustainability, followed by the primary Es, economics, equity and environment, as
well as the additional Es, education and evaluation. The chapter concludes with the
proposed sixth E, ethos. Each section outlines participants ideologies with
discussions of how they are similar or dissimilar and which theories emerge from
their discussions. The names of the participants are used to identify statements or
summaries of their narratives. Narratives are followed by summaries that relate
ideologies back to common themes in literature as well as critical thoughts about their
What Does Sustainability Mean to You?
When asked what sustainability meant to them, participants seemed to
share thoughts and concerns regarding the Brundtland Report, the act of defining
sustainability, and the outcome of using sustainable development in public discourse.
Participants shared the same basic ideology about sustainability, and agreed that the
term sustainability was too vague and allowed for misuse. Anu Ramaswami (ENG)
called trying to define sustainability, the valley of death. Participants agreed that
sustainable development was the better term but acknowledged the lack of
understanding between actors due to the implications of contextually defining
development, and needs.
Many of the participants identified the Brundtland definition indirectly as
the basis of sustainability and simultaneously recognized sustainability as being an
inappropriate and meaningless term to use. What becomes meaningful is not the term
itself but its application. The representative from public policy stated
My sense is that it is very much that what we pass onto future
generations is of a quality that's at least as good if not better than what
we have now. And that our policies improve the quality of life, our
implementation of programs improve rather than degrade.
She also recognized the diversity of the topic stating that most disciplines
have a common goal for sustainability, but how that goal is achieved is not always the
same. This was mirrored by Kathryn Cheevers (POLI) ideas about how to include
the community when dealing with different approaches. She believed that
communities required certain things, needs if you will, and that disciplines needed to
understand each other and work collaboratively to provide more sustainable
opportunities to communities. All of the participants felt that other disciplines
understood their ideologies but in the same breath acknowledged the limitations of
their disciplinary understanding in the application of sustainability.
The representative from engineering expressed that sustainability as a
term carried too many meanings and that there were too many definitions to go
through. She explained that in her program, they broadly understand the Brundtland
definition and they broadly recognize the three Es, economy, equity, and
environment. However, Anu (ENG) clarified that her program focused more on
Social Ecological Infrastructure, concentrating on the ecological and social
applications of infrastructure in rural and urban environments.
She explained that this was more time intensive than the philosophical
aspects of other frameworks used in sustainable development. She believed that
within this framework the concept of sustainable development was easier to
understand as a species oriented concept stating:
If we say we care about biodiversity and the environment it is always
posed in the context of, we need better stock of medicines or plants, or
we are vulnerable and we need all this biodiversity and equal systems
services. It is always services for humans, lets be up front about it, its
about human development and everything else is to support it.
Ideas like this one are technocentric, they do not discuss behavior but utility for the
persistence of the human species (Palmer 1998). Anu (ENG) believes this idea needs
to be understood in order to define development before understanding sustainability,
or people will not agree on what one word means because you didnt agree on the
other. She identified Amartya Sens Capabilities Approach (CA) as the theoretical
framework that is used in her courses to understand the dichotomy of technocratic
tenets built on economics and the construction of systems that improved human lives.
The emergence of the capabilities approach as a central theory was not
accounted for in the initial design of the research and deserves some explanation.
The capabilities approach is the leading alternative to traditional economic
frameworks aimed at poverty, inequality, and human development (Clark 2005). Its
basic assumption is that to determine freedoms of development we must judge quality
of life by paying attention to cultural factors and social convention in order to
determine what people are able to achieve (Sen 1990).
Sen believes capabilities are opportunities (i.e. networks), and the means (i.e.
income) to achieve desired goals, and the freedom of choice to pick the necessary
means available to act on opportunities. Sen (1990) states that the approach can assist
in identifying the possibility that two persons can have very different substantial
opportunities even when they have exactly the same set of means. He provides an
example of a disabled persons lack of capability in comparison to an able-bodied
person despite having the same income and other means. He shows that the disabled
person cannot be judged as having an equal advantage with the same opportunities as
an able-bodied individual. Essentially capabilities are influenced by many forms
including physical, legal, class or social position, and environment to name a few, and
are subject to public reasoning and scrutiny in contextual settings (Sen 1985).
Because of these contextual circumstances, Sen also states that CA is open
and broad, that there should not be a list of fixed capabilities. Although others
invested in CA, believe that there are universal capabilities across cultures that can
inform a list (Nussbaum 1999). For others creating a list is too theoretical and
dismisses the introduction of new capabilities by community members (Sen 1990).
At some level it would seem that the concept of allowing people to seek whatever
freedom they want, regardless of its relevance to what they need or have, is counter
intuitive. This is particularly true for sustainability. You wouldnt argue for poor
populations right to have proper nutrition and equally argue for a CEOs right to
reduce safety standards or pollution practices.
CA does have a disclaimer, capabilities are individualistic and do not talk
about larger forces of equity and fairness at a global structural scale (Sen 1985). That
being said Sen and his peers, including Anu, recognize the limitations of technocratic
approaches in disciplines that use CA, like economics. In a presentation to the World
Bank, Amartya Sen stated that the resolution to inequality and public goods will
almost certainly call for institutions that go beyond the capitalist market economy.
(Schweickart 2010). This includes behavioral shifts that encourage individuals to
reflect on their sense of responsibility in order to sacrifice, ration, and labor for what
is needed (Newell 2011; Smith 2011). This would amount to the necessary change in
societies approach to issues of freedom, humanity, equality, and sustainability.
The representative from anthropology resonated with the ecocentric
ideology of behavioral change. For him sustainability was not just for human utility,
it was changing behavior by living within our means, by reducing consumption,
recognizing the limitations of the planet, and recognizing the disparity between
developed and less developed countries. He believed that what came first was the
identification of cultural needs and then pragmatic solutions, an interesting contrast to
approaches taken in engineering. Where Anu (ENG) acknowledged that communities
have needs and invite others in to meet those needs, infrastructure should be created
first and communities can assign values to the infrastructure latter.
In contrast to other participants Steve Koester (ANTH) also felt that
people at the university were not on the same page and that the definition of
sustainability came down to ones discipline. The term as he put it was as
ambiguous as the word green. Everyone is green these terms could mean almost
anything. Because of this, he was interested in creating a semester long seminar for
faculty asking: What is sustainability? The intention of the seminar, much like this
thesis, was not to set one standard definition at UCD; it was meant to create a
working outline that solidifies a mutual understanding between disciplines that
prevents any misuse of the term in practices or research at UCD.
The participant from geography believed that the term sustainability has
been overused and abused in order to continue unsustainable practices. He believed
that people have lost the understanding of what sustainable development is. Rafeal
Moreno (GEOG) agreed with Anu from engineering that development needed to be
better understood in order to grapple with the ethical issues of what constitutes a
need. Because of the orientation towards human development, he felt that
sustainability and sustainable development should then be separated and we should be
talking about sustainable development to deal with the larger issues of our sustainable
future, including: consumption, capitalism and contextual needs.
All of the participants discussed the necessity of defining development
and needs as they pertain to sustainability or sustainable development. They felt that
by defining these concepts it would ensure intergenerational benefit by sustaining the
world for the needs of future generations. Nearly all participants identified the topic
of sustainability as important to future generations and cited their personal desire to
pass on a better future to their kids. They also acknowledged in some way that a
continuation of an over consumptive middle class American life was not a better
future. This general supposition led to a discussion of the Brundtland Reports use to
define sustainable development as our ability to meet present and future needs
without undue harm.
One key informant expressed that the report is a broad and vague
definition that contributes to the discussion of hegemony that allows the most
involved interests to benefit by keeping concepts vague. In essence, nothing changes.
Attempts at sustainability remain weak or shallow and continue the social status
quo. Rafael (GEOG) echoed this point expressing that
The Brundtland definition has value in the literature, but it is a
political definition. Something so vague that it is something and
nothing at the same time. It is something everyone can ascribe to.
He expressed the terms limitations by stating that every international conference
since the Brundtland Reports inception has been held to create action steps and they
have failed. This is detailed further in the literature review (see page 38 for
discussion), though there are a series of factors that seem to contribute to the
inefficient development of an action plan.
A few examples include: a history of absent voices from the local level, lack
of transparency in policy and decision making processes that have led to the
exclusion of less developed countries, and limited economic interests of super powers
and their refusal to participate in global environmental initiatives (Fisher 2010).
Rafael from geography believes that most other faculty members understand what he
is saying and they agree on the issues most prominent in sustainability or sustainable
As was the case with other participants, Greg (BIO) identified with the
Brundtland report through his desire to pass on a better world to his own children. He
did state that for many, the concept of sustainable development was an oxymoron.
However, he understood its purpose as a way to improve human life. He expressed
that initially he saw sustainability in ecological terms as an issue of carrying capacity.
Carrying capacity is the maximum, equilibrium number of organisms of a particular
species that can be supported indefinitely in a given environment (Carrying Capacity
Dictionary.com 2000). However, through organizational sense making, he
acknowledged that as he became more involved with other faculty members in
different disciplines, including anthropology and public policy, and saw how social
implications affect sustainability.
Once I got into sustainability I was originally interested in it as an
ecologist and I always viewed sustainability as a carrying capacity
issue. So its sort of an ecologist definition. But once I got involved in
it with some of your colleagues in Anthropology and such I started
realizing the importance of the social, the health, the food. And all the
other aspects of a sustainable society.
Ultimately this transmission of ideologies led him to new research interests aimed at
improving human and non-human systems.
Despite some buy-in for the Brundtland definition, most participants
identified its vague and political quality. This was reflected in the emergence of
dependency theory in discussions with three participants. Rafael (GEOG), Steve
(ANTH) and Anu (ENG), highlighted the historical position of the core and periphery
when addressing sustainable development, consumption and the limitation of
resources between westernized countries and those that are less developed.
Narratives reveal another emergent set of critical economic theories including world
systems theory and dependency theory.
The political implications put forward by Frank (1989) and Wallerstein
(1976) regarding globalization and the relationships between
Westem/Northem/Developed and Eastem/Southem/Developing countries
emerged through the beliefs and experiences of participants who had grown up
outside of the United States or had been involved in applied projects in developing
countries. This global experience provided them with direct knowledge of economic,
social, and environmental disparities. It also enabled them to pose critical questions
about sustainability as a context dependent concept, recognizing that how we
experience sustainability is dependent on our position in this relationship. As one
participant asked: How can we (the North) impose sustainable livelihoods on the
South? Or, how can we combat exploitation of the environment in the face of
globalized human aspirations?
Ultimately the group of respondents recognized the Brundtland report as the
primary definition used by most to understand sustainable development. The general
acceptance of this definition was consistent with one key informants description of
the sustainability signature areas adoption of the report in their mission. For many in
the sample the prospect of using the Brundtland report as the framing definition at
UCD emphasizes sustainable development over sustainability. While sustainability is
a term most commonly known to the public, their belief was that the two are in fact
separate. This being said the critique of the definition was present in their ideologies
when using critical language to describe it. Words like oxymoron, vague, political,
abuse and overuse show how participants are leery of mainstream green concepts
that are in danger of being hijacked by the economic and political elites who benefit
from green washing.
While the participants agreed on the general understanding of sustainability,
when discussing the root action towards sustainability, participant responses varied,
though not always by their discipline. This contrast of agreement and variation is
important because it distinguishes the difference between ideology and action.
Participants were clearly influenced by interdisciplinary relationships already;
however sustainable action remains limited to discipline specific methods. A prime
example of this comes from the ideological agreement that the concept of needs and
the ethics of development need to be better understood. The suggestions for how to
do so varied from reducing the influence of capitalism and its contextual relation to
location, policy implementation to encourage community involvement, the use of
technology and infrastructure for time intensive solutions, and addressing behavioral
changes as they relate to economic utility.
These solutions are further split between a broad ideological debate regarding
technocentrism and ecocentrism when working towards sustainability. This split was
most prominent between participants from CLAS and the participant who worked in
another college. The acceptance of the Brundtland Report is convenient; participants
feel like they share the same understanding and seem more interested in unifying their
applied approach to sustainability. While they believe others in the group understand
their disciplinary position, they are not completely trusting of other disciplines ideas
which leads to fundamental differences in ideology that prohibit an agreement on how
to approach sustainability and on what scale. Ultimately, participants believe, or at
least hope, they agree about what sustainability means, when in actuality they are not.
While the group exhibited a difference of opinion, they were all interested in
the positive promotion of sustainability. The frustration they exhibit is due to
communication, jargon, the focus of program and its future. The tension between the
ideologies may actually provide some room for reflection when addressing barriers.
Their differences have the potential to contribute to the construction a working
framework that enhances the freedom of increased human capabilities while
diminishing of the harmful and unsustainable practices of a capitalist economy. The
conversation about these contrasting ideologies carried into the discussion of
economics, which seemed to be (with the exception of one participant) the most
discussed concept by the group.
Economics carried a varied weight among participants. Surprisingly the
participant from geography and the representative from anthropology had the most to
say about economics. Engineering and public policy left it nearly untouched, while
Gregs (BIO) narrative did not turn to economic discussions. The common thread
between those who spoke about economics seemed to center on consumption and
capitalism as negative variables impacting sustainability. This led to an interesting
improvisation of theory that once again uses critical economic theories to inform the
concept of sustainability within CLAS. For those who placed less emphasis on
economics in the interview, their positions were similar in that they felt there was a
contextual aspect to how people place higher emphasis on economics in order to
When asked how she would explain sustainability to someone, Anu (ENG)
expressed that to understand sustainability you need to understand development and
to do so she uses the Capabilities Approach in her teachings. According to Amartya
Sen (1983), development is framed as the freedom to enhance human capabilities.
With in this definition she stated that it is not for anyone else to define sustainability
for another person and
Why cant a kid in Bangladesh think only about economic
development, why should he be forced to think about the
This is not to say that Anu does not see the conflict of sustainable interests in this
open framework. Historically, CA approaches development through the bridged
philosophies of Adam Smith and Karl Marx (Clark 2006) who both limit the
inclusion of the environment in their philosophy regarding development, leaving a
focus on cultural and economic enhancement. This means that development includes
human centered abilities like being able to eat, provide energy, enjoy cultural
tradition, and potentially the inclusion of environmental appreciation (Sen 1990).
This point was also made by Anu that while Sen leaves out non-human entities as a
part of sustainable development the openness of the theory allows for the inclusion of
non-human systems if they are in someones personal definition of development.
Kathryn Cheever (POLI) pointed out that science no matter how good doesnt
always lead to good policy, particularly economic policy. Policy makers can be
swayed by other interests to make decisions that lead to unsustainable outcomes. One
example she provided was the emphasis on extractive industries like mining for
energy economies that claim to provide jobs to populations desperate for income.
I guess from a policy perspective, the piece I find most concerning is
that good science doesn't lead to good policy. Policy makers have a lot
of other demands, so we may know that extractive industry isn't
particularly good for communities, but communities are desperate for
jobs and this is something that they know, they've done before. They
ignore the environmental degradation and the health problems it may
cause for them, in the short term my children need to eat, I need a
job. And trying to help people understand we can't ignore those
issues, we have to find alternatives for these families or there won't be
sustainability. If there only alternative is mining that's what they'll
turn to. They have to another way to make a living and how do we find
those for communities, and as leaders in communities
This is for her a short-term means to an end. Ignoring the environment is
irresponsible and public policy needs to find ways to educate people that
environmental issues cannot be ignored. For her alternative approaches are priorities.
In this explanation economics and production is tied into behavior and ecology.
From a public policy perspective, she provided an example of this linkage
through the resistance to organics in agriculture, explaining that some farmers see
organics as scientific mumbo jumbo. The resistant response from farmers to
sustainable alternatives in her experience was weve always done it this way. She
Some of it is going to be an ongoing educational process for rural parts
of the state who still see organics and all of that sort of thing as
scientific mumbo jumbo that we don't need to bother with.
Farmers believe that they can can rip those fields apart and dump seed and run
sprinkler systems and it will go on forever until the state pulls the plug. This had
already happened in her experience, without any thought, on the part of government
officials or farmers, towards alternatives.
Kathryn believed that people are unwilling to make these changes because
they are afraid they wont be able to meet their needs. These needs, in her opinion
were varied and based on access; make a living, being able to eat, or sending their
kids to school. What is interesting is that from this example the inclusion of
psychological properties, in this case fear, inform the politics of ecology. She
believed that the basis of reconciling economics and behavior towards ecology is to
embed a sense of responsibility in graduates of public policy programs to keep
conversations going and find ways to work and produce in harmony with the
environment when they go out into the workforce.
Economics emerged as an important concept for Steve (ANTH) and
Rafael (GEOG), sharing most of their ideas about capitalism and consumption. Both
recognized basic concepts of human needs illustrated in CA but many of their
thoughts fit within political economy (PE), dependency theory (DT), and world
systems theory (WST). Their perspectives on needs and consumption are based on
the locality of a person or society not just geographically but in ranks of class. Their
ideas about capitalism deal with its dispersion and influence on developed and
developing countries individually and as parts to a global economic whole.
Steve (ANTH) was well versed in political economy at one time in his
research and had a lot to say about consumption. He expressed that the West
(defined by WST as North America, Europe or any other developed region) has
consumed its share through capitalist economies and the only way to turn things
around is to change peoples behaviors. He was not optimistic about the prospect of
this because developed societies like the U.S. are unwilling to make even small
changes to reduce consumption, therefore it will take catastrophes to wake people up
to the limitations of the world. Yet, it is seen in global warming models that
underdeveloped nations that will suffer the consequences of these catastrophes,
including rising sea levels, due to their lack of wealth and ability to provide relief in
disasters (Rogers et al. 2008;). This idea was mirrored by Rafael (GEOG) who
believed people needed to experience the difficulty of systems provision (water, food,
etc.) but that it would take a larger slap to the face to change behaviors.
If I hit you in your pocket in your wallet, then you begin to think it
makes more sense to change. But even worse is when all of a sudden
you cannot eat, or now you cannot have a house or now you cannot
have a job. Then you are going to start wondering, wow what is life
Steve (ANTH) expressed feeling defeated by what Appadurai (1991) calls
imagined lives in globalization. He explained that the global economy creates new
needs everyday, when people see an ad for a Lexus all over the world, they
imagine these things, and they want them. He continued saying that the world could
never support these new demands a point reflected by Rogers, Jalal & Boyd (2008)
who estimated it would take five Earths to provide the American middle class
lifestyle to the world. He also pointed out that this was confounded by the efforts of
corporate and government interests to try to make sustainability into a growth
industry in and of its self.
Steve recognized the position of large interests to increase growth to
provide jobs to a country with a 9% unemployment rate, but also points to the
contradiction of the same interests calling for society to be sustainable, and as Rafael
(GEOG) said sustainability requires little to no growth. Steve continued by
discussing the refusal to acknowledge issues of class in the United States and abroad.
He challenged the economic model of Kuznets Curve (Dasgupta et al. 2002),
expressing that it is not the poorest people who are responsible for pollution. Rather
the upper class, the Americans who count in terms of economics, are the ones to
blame...a class that lives better than any society in the history of mankind.
He expressed that these interests are the ones protected by the ideological
refusal of climate change and that they will do anything to prevent class based
changes from changing their way of life. The underlying message is the disjuncture
of human needs between those who have and those who have not, the North/West and
the South/East. The rectification of this global class split is essential for sustainability
(Brown et al. 1987). Steve continued the discussion about equality and needs in the
Rafael (GEOG) was passionate about the concept of economics, immediately
stating that the bottom of the issue for sustainability is capitalism. The problem as he
pointed out, is that capitalism is based on growth and profit, which is unrealistic for
sustainability because we live in a closed system where nothing can grow forever.
Nothing can grow forever in a closed system and we live in a closed
system. So capitalism by definition as we know it in the 20th century
is not sustainable. Period. And unfortunately we dont have any other
socioeconomic arrangement to substitute capitalism. So we are talking
about sustainability as sustaining capitalism, its not going to happen.
Whatever it may look like in the future it will have to be very different from the
monopolies of the 19th and 20th century.
He talked about a class assignment he gives his students where they have to
watch fifteen minutes of financial channels every day for a month. The programs his
students watch provide a glimpse at the constant discourse to create more jobs to fight
a zero growth economy, for him it is a direct reflection of capitalisms requirement of
growth. He stated that at some point, we cannot grow the economy, companies,
universities which will shock people and force them to think about what life really
Rafael echoed what others said by talking about the need to change behaviors
we can talk about the economics of savings...but people need to change the way
they think. He used Subaru as an example of how sustainability is manipulated by
Subaru can recycle whole cars but that doesnt address the real issue,
and that is we shouldnt even be producing cars. We need to get
people and goods into mass transit, trains.
He expressed that this contradiction is true of any industry whether cars, food, or
clothing expressing that a company can claim green practices like organic production
but the real issue is that production should be local to reduce environmental effects of
transport. In his opinion, not addressing the real problems leaves us arranging the
chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
Several participants in CLAS were critical of capitalist systems that encourage
consumptive practices that are counter-intuitive to sustainability. This collective
ideology seems to be nurtured by critical theories that inform political ecology. In the
discussion of economics, the emphasis on location and class as contextually assisting
or impeding the ability to address vulnerabilities and meet needs is in line with
situated relationships discussed in political economy, world systems, and dependency
theories. These theories along with participant narratives highlight the importance of
ecocentric ideas of behavioral change and the reduction of greed.
Three participants focused on consumption and capitalisms growth
requirements as problematic to sustainability. Narratives touch on the expansion of
markets through what Appadurai (1991) calls imagined lives. Participants who
discuss needs versus desires do not limit their critique of access to developing
countries; it stands for developed countries trade of rights to health and wellbeing for
consumption and false security. Therefore, a globally equitable lifestyle does not
include consumer luxuries. However, others do not share the same views.
Other participants discussion of carrying capacity and capabilities approach
show a distinct divergence of understandings between disciplines but primarily
between colleges. Carrying capacity is informed by Malthusian economics, if you
change the technology and you change the carrying capacity. This is technocentric in
theory and does not alter the landscape of global consumption. CA acknowledges
peoples desire to include nature in their construct of a need but mostly as a resource
for human utility. The spiritual or personal relationship to natural surroundings and
the support of nature for natures sake is not just absent from technocentric
approaches it is outright rejected. Anu (ENG) believes that if it is important to
someone to include nature for natures sake as a freedom then it should be. However,
during interviews her apprehension to do so was apparent in her responses and body
language. Nature was utility. The purpose of this constructed concept of nature, as
utility, was not to support the degradation of the environment but instead to support
the abolition of poverty. The issue of social justice is at the root of this philosophy
yet sustainable outcomes are not realistic if the environment remains a passive
background. I believe that it becomes hard to trust a theory without a framework that
accounts for greed and manipulation. To avoid exploitation of freedoms it is
important to bridge the expressed economic philosophies across disciplines and
colleges and discuss them in relationship to other approaches like environment and
When talking about equity most of the participants discussed needs, however
in engineering there was an extra emphasis on equity of knowledge. In political
science, the participant touched on the concept of needs but focused more on the
effects of having a sense of community to produce shared opportunity. All
participants through the course of the interviews acknowledged intergenerational
equity (equity between generations) as a part of their philosophy, mostly because they
themselves have children
I want to pass on something that's better, I know that the environment I
grew up in rural Kansas, was a pretty clean kind of place. Chemical
farming wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is today partly because if there
was any it was too expensive. The need for it wasn't there people didn't
perceive that it was important and you grew vegetable gardens and
things tasted better and why wouldn't I want that for my own children
and now my grandchildren.
After that I became a parent, and so I certainly want my children and
their children and their children to enjoy a healthy planet. And so
there's that personal stake in it. I myself also want to enjoy a healthy
However, the discussions seemed to inadvertently focus on intragenerational
equity (equity across the same generation), which admittedly disproved my
personal expectation that intragenerational equity was not a primary concern
to knowledge producers. I realize now that it is a personal concern and it is
embedded in their work, however as one participant stated it is an ugly ethical
issue that no one wants to touch.
Once we get there (defining sustainable development), we get into
many ugly philosophical, moral and ethical issues that we dont want
to grapple with. Such as the way we conceptualize what is a good life,
what is a need and those kinds of things are too deep and we dont
want to change that right? And thats the problem of sustainable
Despite the acknowledgement of intragenerational equity, it is not as present
in scientific discourse and articles aimed at applied work because it is not as
easy to understand and sign on with as the concept of saving the future of our
In engineering that ethics of what qualifies a need was avoided by keeping
philosophies centered on time-focused infrastructure; however, the emphasis on
building an equitable future was on bridging types of knowledge. Anu (ENG) stated
that any community that invites a group in to help them has a set of needs, whether it
is provision of water, energy, or economic development. Experts who access local
knowledge to inform the meaning and value of the infrastructure they build, increase
the chances of local needs being met. She provided the example of building a fence,
If you go to a community and build a fence they will tell you what it
does to them, they will say if it prevents social interaction, if it keeps
animals out of communities or protects them from hunters.
However, she also explained the importance of systems knowledge stating that we
often overlook it in favor of local level knowledge, but both are in fact valuable.
She acknowledged that there are limitations to expert knowledge and that the
issue of meeting needs is an issue of appreciating other types of knowledge. Anu
We often paint the local level as happy sustainable communities and
we are the evil people trying to make them unsustainable. I dont
think that is necessarily true, they already have aspirations, so no one
is in a vacuum.
She explained that tribal communities are trying to bring kids back to traditional
livelihoods by providing amenities in villages. This is a point shared by Kathryn
(POLI) who discussed the same issue of cultural sustainability in small Colorado
mountain towns losing their children to developed cities.
A lot of the smaller communities across Colorado really worry about
whether their going to have anybody living there in a hundred years.
And not because the environment fell apart but because their children
are moving away. And if there are no jobs the kids don't come back
The justification of this development is an interesting contrast to what Steve
(ANTH) and Rafael (GEOG) discussed in the last section regarding the production
of new needs. These new needs and existing aspirations are created by capitalist
interests to fuel consumption growth and profit.
Anu (ENG) went on to identify needs or barriers as context dependent.
She believed that sustainability should not be defined in the field because every
community knows what it is and what it is not. In this belief, framing peoples needs
is only context dependent; improving human capabilities means different things in
In the U.S. obesity is a problem and so we focus on infrastructure that
promotes walking, and biking. Yet, people in Bangladesh who are
bicycling and walking face overexertion. So somewhere one thing is
life threatening and in another place it meets a need.
The root of equitably meeting needs for ENG is in prioritization, identifying what is
important and what is immediate, something that she explains is different for every
Greg from biology expressed his ideas about equity as also being able to help
find ways for people to meet their immediate needs. Greg was incredibly interested
in sharing how his work was influenced by art, something that will be discussed
further in a separate section; he provided an experiential example that tied into his
ideology working towards equity. He described his need to do something altruistic
for a community that wanted help. He signed up to volunteer for the organization
JPHRO in Haiti after the earthquake in January of 2011. Through his work, he
helped rebuild homes, provide healthcare and find a way to amplify the voices of
local people. He began work on a PSA project, recording rappers in the camps
singing about the spread of Cholera and how to prevent it. Greg expressed how the
use of art was so powerful to help combat issues of health and meet the needs
identified by those who wanted to get their voice into the world. His narrative shows
the paradox of not being able to have his own needs met to complete the project due
to the restrictive policy barriers at JPHRO.
And so I wrote the proposal, submitted it and it was turned down for
reasons I'm still not clear about. And so once that solution was nixed
and I wasn't able to follow that path, I did end up leaving anyway and
lived on my own in Porto Prince for four days and recorded rappers.
This ended up being a great experience cause it was the first time I
really had the freedom to walk the streets of Porto Prince get to know
the Hatians a little better and see what life in Porto Prince was really
like and I got to live in the IDP camp for a couple of days.
Ultimately this forced him to leave the organization to find the freedom to work with
local people to contribute to the welfare of the displaced.
Rafael (GEOG) was more critical of the concept of needs when discussing
equity. He stated that the term needs and improvement was a part of the major
frameworks and indicators of sustainability including the Brundtland report, But
what do those words even mean? Similarly, to Anu (ENG), he expressed that
defining them is a sticky, ugly, philosophical and moral endeavor. How do we
conceptualize a good life? Or what a need really is. For him it was contextual and
passively expressed through class and economics. For some, he stated, it is a three-
car garage and for others it is having something to eat. Nevertheless, these concepts
in his opinion were too deep so people avoid going there.
In order to address an equitable approach to meeting human needs Rafael
(GEOG) acknowledged that the social sciences are necessary to determine cultural
values and behaviors.
Yah we are going to need engineers because we are going to have to
create systems or infrastructures. You know we are going need
philosophers to see why we think the way we think? Why do we
develop the values that we have? But sometimes the social sciences
tend to be ignored. People say you know there are so many more
important things than trying to understand the value of a culture or
whatever, ha thats for latter. Unfortunately, those people have to
understand that at the end of the day you can create the most incredible
systems, solar panels and windmill wind turbines or whatever. But if
people dont change their values, their behavior those arent going to
have no impact.
Accessing anthropology, philosophy, and sociology to understand these things is the
only way to approach people who live in 3,000 square foot homes and to find ways to
take them out of their comfort zones and put them back in connection with the natural
world. He believed that a reconnection would get people to think about the world and
develop new values.
Steve (ANTH) shared the same feeling regarding finding ways for people to
understand the world they live in and recognize how they define quality of life
because the growth orientation we embrace in the U.S. isnt sustainable. He discusses
the contrast of desires even between counties in Colorado, citing his own experience
of choosing to live in a less condensed neighborhood in Boulder, which meets his
needs to be around natural environments. He described the opportunity to see a great
homed owl and its mate on his property, something he wouldnt see if they had
chosen to live somewhere else. He compared this with his experiences driving
through Douglas County where in contrast to Boulder there was no investment in
open space. His acknowledgement of his own prioritized needs.
I have this conversation with my kid all the time and we compare
living in Boulder to living in other counties that are rapidly growing,
sorry if I offend people, but where's the open space? Boulder, all jokes
aside, started investing in open space a long time ago. Would I rather
have that or would I rather be conveniently located to a ridiculous mall
or be densely packed in with lots of other people and nothing but more
houses? The point is I think values are really important, I think
changing, where we look for our satisfaction is necessary.
Steve also provided a great narrative from his experiences in St. Lucia while
writing his dissertation to describe the contrast of needs. He describes working in St.
Lucia and watching a group of hippies from all over the world sail in and set up an
appropriate technology fair. Appropriate technology meaning the use of small scale,
labor intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled modes
of technology or operation (Roseland 1997). He asked some of his friends to join him
when he went to the fair and he emphasized their low economic status
These men were poor, rural proletariats living in wooden shacks who
worked as laborers on the banana plantation and if they were lucky
went to Florida to cut sugar cane. They used the money made in
Florida to slowly, over years of work, turn shacks into concrete homes.
There were two water pipes and no electricity. So we went to the fair
and these hippies had laid out all these cool technologies, a hurricane
resistant house made from bamboo, a windmill that generated
electricity for a TV, composting pit toilets, etc. Im with my friends
and I say What do you think? and my friend says Fuck this, I want
what you got. I was stunned because I realized he was absolutely
right and at the same time its absolutely impossible.
For him this candid response to appropriate technology was a slap in the face, he was
forced to acknowledge the inequity of access between the countries he worked in and
the country he was from in a new way. It was clear that people from St. Lucia
deserved more the problem as he shared, is that the world literally cannot provide that
same lifestyle to everyone. He cites Lester Browns (1987) statistics of how long we
would live if the world did fully share in that lifestyle and stated, If we have global
warming now, how much worse would it get. The narrative is a direct example of
what Ortner (1984) describes as the researcher coming off the observant ship and
standing on the experiential shore of improvised praxis.
Steve was confronted with the reality of expectation, desire, need, and
context. He believed that there were two sides to his experience that were difficult to
reconcile 1) that of course the people of St. Lucia deserve to have better lives and 2)
for that to happen it means westernized societies need to give things up. For Steve
the answer is with the worlds youth, he believed that to achieve this change it has to
be a behavioral shift that is taken on by young people, this for him was critical.
The narrative acknowledges the naivety of westernized sustainable action
particularly in less developed countries (Rios Osario et al. 2005). Understanding
complex and contextual needs in the face of a global economy has emerged as
important to creating sustainable outcomes now that equity includes an individuals
ability to meet more than basic needs. This idea was shared among many
participants, what stood out from this was Kathryn Cheevers inclusion of how
communities are impacted by predetermined or perceived needs.
Her work as the director of a research center put her in a position to
understand the relationships in local governments that address the needs of their
communities. However, when asked which voices were present and which were
missing when decisions were made she stated that often the softer voices of the
people it will impact are left out. She provided an example of the increased focus on
mining in Colorado, where the current population is at a crossroads of needing
employment but whose environment and living conditions may be severely impacted
by the push for provision of minerals to the rest of the country particularly the east
coast. She explained that mining interests are present, policy makers and certainly
the large environmental groups are at the table, but those it will impact in the long
term, in ways policy cant predict thirty years from now, are not. It is a situation
where Coloradoans may be steamrolled by corporate interests in the same ways that
Steve Koesters research describes St. Lucians lack of empowerment as their
resources are manipulated for production to meet the demands of western
To minimize the damages Kathryns program places undergraduates in
low income areas to work with community members to help get them access to
knowledge and tools to assist them in meeting their needs, to assist them in making
sure they are heard, and to encourage them to know they arent alone. She didnt
believe that things would go back to simpler times but that there was an opportunity
for people to be more thoughtful. She believed using communities as a mouthpiece
was a useful vehicle for making changes. For her the rugged individualist ideology
was unsustainable and seemed lonely. She cited Daniel Kemmis (2009) and his
reflection of rural Montana
People that didn't get along all that well, knew that they had to have
bams for their animals when winter started to set in and everyone
would help. And you have the teetotalers and the people that imbibed
heavily and the staunch Sunday church goers who really were
offended by fowl language and the mule skinners who were anything
but polite in their conversational style but they still worked together
and they knew that they could count on each other.
People who typically never mixed due to different sensibilities made sure to
help people because they knew things had to be done to survive as a
Kathryn shared her own experience building a community in her
I feel very blessed to live on a block where thats the case. We have
our 35th annual block party this last labor day, its been going on for
ever and the women on the block have a thing called the Wednesday
Whiners. We get together once a month for conversation and its
women my age and older and young moms with babies and everything
in between and with a sort of diversity of backgrounds.
This group had a history of helping its members through a variety of life events.
She described a young couple with twins who travel to violent areas of
Mexico because they were in the Foreign Service, and how the group had come
together to assist the family by creating a procession of women to act as mothers and
grandmothers to provide them with support. She also recalled how the group had
come together to help one of their own through cancer and eventually death. She
explained how they had
Seven days of potlucks at her home when she demanded to leave the
hospital, its painful to think about but it was wonderful for her. Her
garden was blooming so she got to see that and all of her friends were
She made it clear that this type of engagement made the world a better place to live in
and posed how do you build that type of community block by block, neighborhood
by neighborhood? Her biggest concern in building these communities was that men
needed to be involved. She felt that men share the same needs that women have, but
the macho stereotype helps to ensure that they dont always have the opportunities to
have those needs met. Through her experiences, it was clear that gender equity and
community building were key pieces to ensuring an equitable access to meeting
needs, an idea shared and promoted in the UN Millennium Goals (2010) for
sustainable development. For Kathryn (POLI), increasing communication,
empowerment, and a sense of belonging sustainability is a much easier.goal to meet.
As a whole, the narratives once again turned to the understanding of needs.
All participants seem to agree that inequality is critical to sustainability, highlighting
structural (often economic) barriers that limit access and freedom discussed by CA.
Inequalities were identified as the inability to improve life due to heavy borrowing of
various types of capital between generations and cultures. All of the participants
emphasis on providing a better future to their children and the acceptance of the
Brundtland Report represent generational borrowing however; two of the narratives
highlight the disparity between and pressures placed on different cultures. Despite
the use of needs as an umbrella concept for equity, the group exhibits the same
divergence that contributes to the frustration of signature areas membership.
Ultimately their differences lay primarily with the scale of approach, which was
informed by individual experience.
Three common themes emerge in this section the first is knowledge, the
second is community, and the third is reconnection to natural systems. With the
exception of natural reconnection, these themes are mostly consistent across
disciplines and colleges. Knowledge as it is talked about by participants is the
sharing of local level and expert knowledge. Equity of knowledge becomes the
ability to access or gain knowledge to understand needs and then the opportunity to
participate in addressing them. Despite agreement in the importance access and of
bridging knowledge types there were interesting differences in how to achieve this,
some participants emphasize the role of the expert and others emphasize local
Greg Cronins narrative is worth mentioning again. His use of art moves
away from traditional forms of what I call AUTHORity where policymakers and
academics solely control the collection and dissemination of information. However,
as the operator of the technical equipment necessary to produce images and sound he
maintains the role of expert. After interviews with participants were finished, Greg
shared in a final personal conversation that he was interested in expanding his video
narrative created during this process. He wanted to use video work to get funding to
acquire recording equipment that could be used to create a recording studio for
rappers he is working with in Haiti. In doing so, he is relinquishing even more
authority to help community members truly take control of their messages about
health and social issues.
This is also linked to community. In Kathryn Cheevers narrative, she
describes her own personal experience with her neighborhood community. Her
stories show how people work locally to meet their needs devoid of expertise.
They also show how this transfers into the work she does in public policy to help
communities. Her personal experience as a member of a local level community is
automatically bridged to her position as expert in the university. The two identities
mutually inform each other to assist her in her work towards sustainability and equity.
The formation of bridged knowledge is shared by Steve (ANTH) who practices
sensemaking in his narrative as he is informed by another persons experience and
Finally, the reconciliation of local level and expert knowledge was
discussed through the reconceptualization of needs being linked to a reconnection to
nature. This connection seems necessary for further scientific exploration as well as
humanitys general wellness. It is however important to caution that the idea of
reconnection with nature is in many ways constructed. Nature as we know it,
remember it, or wish it to be does not always reflect it. The natural world was here
before us and it will be here, albeit altered, after our species is gone (Weisman 2007).
We must pay attention to the romanticized approach to nature as a barrier and a
benefit to understand that our place in it is complex and often misunderstood.
The primary discussion surrounding the environment focused on the use of
technology to decrease degradation. The implications of discussing the use of
technology and how the environment should be approached centered on the economic
division in the literature review. This includes the ideological split that discusses
technology as the means to avoid global meltdown (neo-classical) vs. behavior
changes that lead to limited growth (eco-economics). Most of the participants sided
with eco-economics in their discussions of technologys limitations despite the
impressive systems being developed to advance sustainability. Because of the
emphasis on behavior change participants were asked about deep ecologys value in
communicating the necessity of change, which will be discussed in a separate section.
Only two participants accepted it as a useful theory, and only one of those
participants really discussed their beliefs in depth about human connection to
environment and spirituality.
For Anu (ENG) the environment was included in her work through the study
of urban metabolism a concept integrated in industrial ecology. She explained that
this meant looking holistically at the ways the environment is influenced by urban
flows and materials, including the impact of pollution on ecosystems and human
health. Most of the discussion about sustainability up to this point dealt with human
capabilities, development and meeting needs. Her approach to the environment was
no different. When discussing deep ecology she remarked that she looked to Amartya
Sen who is a Nobel Prize laureate and an economist who really knows about
poverty and who removes non-humans from his ideas about human development.
The connection to nature that deep ecology requires is severed in this belief, however
she fully acknowledged the fact that others do not agree with this concept and so if
the natural world is important to them then the CA framework is open for them to
include non-human species in their concept of development.
For her, addressing, the environment was done through technology, using
systems knowledge to create techniques that reduce harmful effects on people and
their natural environment as they attempt to meet their needs. She provided an
example of working in a village to produce energy through wind generators. She
explained that while meeting their needs it was essential to bridge their knowledge
types in order to ensure that they understood how to properly dispose of the generator
batteries due to its lead components. The goal of which was to avoid polluting water
sources, and negatively affecting the populations health. Ultimately the purpose of
developing sustainable infrastructure and technology was not to protect the
environment but to find a way to meet peoples needs with lesser impacts on local
Greg (BIO) got his start in ecology looking at aquatic ecosystems. As his
work progressed, he became interested in finding ways to fight food shortages and
unsustainable practices, including contamination from polluted runoff, created by our
current farming methods. The approach that he found most favorable was with
aquaponics. Aquaponics he explained, is an
engineered aquatic ecosystem that can support the growth of fish and
vegetables at the same time, with little use of pesticides and zero
discharge of pollutants.
He believed that by using this design in urban and degraded habitats people could
feed themselves sustainably with less land used for farming and better access through
Greg explained that 40% of the Earths landmass was used for food
production and that the same amount of people can be fed using half that area with
aquaponics. With aquaponics, a community could produce 50,000 pounds of fish
and a few hundred thousand pounds of vegetables per acre, per year. In addition, the
scrap organic material from plants could be used to feed fish increasing the
percentage of land freed up from farming. He made a very strong point regarding the
use of technology to meet the worlds food needs.
My goal is not to grow food so we can have more people on the planet.
I think that creating efficient technology goes hand in hand with
He acknowledged that reducing a population of seven billion back to the
Earths carrying capacity was not something he could provide suggestions for, the
ethical implications of population control were too large. He emphasized that his
desire was not to make room for 15 billion people on Earth, a projection he had seen
from other scientists (Rogers, Jalal & Boyd 2008). His intention was to address
anthropogenic causes of climate change while meeting needs for the current
population. What is difficult about this goal is that historically we have seen that
populations grow when there is access to abundance, most notably the introduction of
genetically modified seed by the World Bank (Weisman 2007). The World Banks
influence was based on capitalism and free markets; perhaps his use of technology in
a solutions economy would create different outcomes.
Rafael (GEOG) emphasized the influence of capitalist economies and the
pressure they put on the environment. He re-emphasized what others had said in
previous sections regarding what Rogers, Jalal & Boyd (2008) call the tyranny of the
middle class, whereby the increase of environmental and social inequality is produced
by a growing middle class. The fundamental issue in this is that there is no way to
ethically challenge structures that require a division of wealth and poverty. This is
where CA is a helpful theory in its discussion of freedoms to enhance human ability
or as Rafael termed it, human improvement.
The concept of human improvement was included in his discussion with
the belief that improvements can consist things other than technology including better
access, or economic development, but it can also be the improvement of the
environment through new ways of relating to the natural world.
So what has to happen, at the end of the day we can talk forever about
technology, we can talk forever about solar panels, electric cars, and
new buildings and whatever. We can talk about the economics of
saving. But at the end we need to change our core values and that is
He once again disagrees with the neo-classical belief that technology will
save humanity again from external vulnerabilities stating, Technology for
technologys sake is not going to save us. His narrative is one of the few that directly
addresses reconnecting to behaviors that allow us to respect our environment.
However, when asked about theories that are considered metaphysical or
soft but still deal with environmental issues (i.e. deep ecology) he felt that there was
too much of a negative connotation to be able to use the theories. He acknowledged
that audience matters but also expressed that you can use other modes of scientific
explanation to explain why someone or how someone can adopt values more in tune
with the environment. The example he provided was to use physics to explain the
benefits of becoming a vegetarian. Not for spiritual or ethical implications but to
explain how vegetables are grown at a lower trophic level, allowing more mouths to
be fed. Otherwise he felt people would view others using deep ecology as extremists.