Strong sustainability and what this means for us as educators.

Strong sustainability recognises that society and the economy function within a superset; the Environment. The Economy is a subset of society. This model places the sustainability of the environment as more important than the sustainability of society and the economy, because if the environment cannot be sustained then neither can the other two. This model is preferable to the Triple Bottom Line model which gives all three equal value which in reality means the values sustaining the economy tend to dominate (

What does this mean for NZ? The site referred to above lists 6 essential conditions for a sustainable New Zealand. I will highlight the one I think is  most important:

Enabling condition 5
Strong sustainability understanding is deeply embedded in all of New Zealand’s governance, economic, legal, and educational systems, and all applications of these systems.

All other enabling conditions should flow from this. To achieve this it places great importance on our elected governments to get it done. This means it places great importance on us, the citizens of this country to elect the right government and keep them on the path we believe is right.

I think perhaps  what this means for us in our role as educators is to not only teach ecological literacy but also political literacy. Young people have the poorest turn out at elections and who can blame them? How many of them have a clue what the various political parties stand for?  We had an election recently (last year in fact) and yes I was aware of talks occuring on campus (usually after hours) from some of our electoral candidates, however I was dismayed to find the very small audiences present at these events.Perhaps some of these events could be included in our course curriculum/assessments?

Otago Access Radio 105.4fm  and Sam Mann and Shane Gallagher are doing a great job with their sustainable lens programme. Here are some podcasts:

The last podcast begins by discussing fracking. Did you know 4.4 million Ha of NZ land has been approved for fracking? Apparently the so called impermeable rocks are not impermeable at all!!

Web Development  (Web1) in the BIT at Otago Polytechnic taught by Sam Mann is a good example of how education for sustainability could look. Check out the latest podcast in sustainable lens 2012-05-03- Sustainability Show   (59 mins) to find out more. The notion of ‘Sustainability’ has been broadened  to include productivity in the workplace. The discussion about social networking and gaming addiction was interesting from the point of view of was it actually off the topic? Is it part of “strong sustainability’. Personally, I think (in a wobbly kind of way) we are far too early into our journey of educating for sustainability to extend the definition of sustainability to workplace productivity. The discussion on recycling old computers was much more on the mark.

There is also an Eco Living In Action Show on access radio. These programmes look at positive and fun ways to bring people on board with sustainability. I am reading Niki Harre’s book, Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability (which can be downloaded for free from   and she warns against scaring or bullying people into changing their behaviour.

So what does strong sustainability mean for me in my role at OP – I think my best course of action will be in awareness raising and rallying for positive action. This can be directed at both staff and students. I will shortly be circulating a petition against assest and I am thinking about sharing resources – land, equipment, gardens etc and taking the ‘Living Campus’ off campus and into the suberbs. (I have done this on an individual level already, but I should extend it to the community level).


3 responses to “Strong sustainability and what this means for us as educators.

  1. Sustainable Development is the means by which society maintains a harmonious relationship with nature and fosters a value system which ensures living within the carrying capacity of all ecosystems.

  2. helenlindsay

    Hi Jane,
    You are so right, it is easy to be “all talk and no action” and I very much agree with you that we cannot protect the environment until we address the social, cultural and political aspects since these are at the core. Sometimes ( more often than I like) I do dispair and really wonder if it is possible to change the prevailing human value system to one which is not materialistic, and I do wonder if the species which is the most ferocious of all predators can save itself. Maybe evolution has taken us too far and we are destined to become extinct once we have consumed the resources we have at our disposal. If you look at other animal species including bacteria, when a population grows exponentially and consumes all the available food (resources) the population crashes and may or may not recover. I suspect this will be our fate, though under natural conditions species live in equilibrium – what is natural? Are Human’s still part of nature?
    As for me I am trying to let my life speak my words by doing things like growing my own food, re-cycling, bi-cycling, supporting the Green Party… but mostly I am doing what everybody else is doing and it isn’t enough.
    My ideas about sharing resources are along the lines of the transition town movement and the Transition Valley community is an excellent local example. For example, I have recently gone into bee keeping and have gone into partnership in the ownership of a honey extractor and other equipment. I am willing to share this with anyone else who has bees and would welcome anyone new to bees to come and learn. Now that the varroa mite is in Otago it is even more important that we have hives in ouir backyards as all the wild bee hives will die out.

  3. Hi Helen
    Interesting to read your posts – you have strong passion and analysis! I (think I) agree that sustainability is fundamentally about the environment, but I don’t think we can address that without considering the social, cultural and political aspects. And that’s the challenge, I reckon. You can get people all fired up about recycling, or planting trees, or acting against lignite mines, but how do we make changes in the way we live our lives to reflect those beliefs? It’s easy to say the ‘right’ thing but much harder to live it. Quakers have a saying ‘Let your life speak’ which is pretty much the same as saying our words and actions must be congruent to be authentic. Stephanie Dowrick says ” Your behaviour is the only true measure of your values. Everything else is wishful thinking.”

    I’m keen to hear more about your ideas for sharing resources and taking the living campus concept into our commmunities.

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