Unit 11c. Sustainability



The goal of this lab is to explore sustainability and sustainable development from the perspective of business, government, non-profit and nongovernmental organizations, as well as civil society and the individual. Sustainability is about living in a way that meets the needs and goals of people today, without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (NZ Gov).  In addition, we will use this lab to think about our own political views and how they relate to sustainability by completing the online political compass survey.


Figure 11.c.1

World in our hands


Environmental sustainability is a fundamentally multi-dimensional concept. Some environmental challenges arise from development and industrialization – natural resource depletion (especially of nonrenewable resources), pollution, and ecosystem destruction. Other challenges are a function of underdevelopment and poverty-induced short-term thinking – resource depletion (especially of potentially renewable resources such as forests and water) and lack of investment in capacity and infrastructure committed to pollution control and ecosystem protection.”  - The 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index



Figure 11.c.2

Sustainability Index by Country. Darker colors indicate countries with greater environmental sustainability.


Before Coming to Class

In the week prior to this discourse, students should be broken up into three groups to facilitate using the jigsaw puzzle technique. The jigsaw method allows a class to cover a large amount of material, in depth, in a short amount of time. Each group will be assigned one of the following four readings from the WorldWatch Institute. Before coming to class, students should also evaluate Figure 11.C.2. What trends do you see for environmental sustainability by country?


  • Group 1 should read Accelerating the Shift to Sustainability p. 189-206 in 2001 State of the World. This article discusses what steps need to be taken for society to become more sustainable, as well as how civil society can play a role in making a change toward sustainability.  In addition, this article examines how governments can help bring about a cultural shift toward sustainability.


  • Group 2 should read Chapter 8 Reconciling Trade and Sustainable Development p. 134-151 in 2006 State of the World. This article explores conflicts over trade and the environment, trade liberalization, and trade and sustainable development.


  • Group 3 should read Chapter 10 Transforming Corporations p. 171-189 in 2006 State of the World. This article examines why corporations should be more sustainable, some examples of sustainable corporations methods, and what you as a stockholder and consumer can due to help make corporations more sustainable.


These articles will provide a solid background for developing sustainability plans for societal groups in class. Come to class ready for a lively discussion about sustainability. In addition to reading your assigned article, complete the short political compass survey before coming to class. Make sure to write down your score and bring it to class so that in class we can graph the classes’ political views.



In Class Activity

Students should come to class having read the article assigned to their group and having completed the political compass survey, noting their score. For the first ~10 minutes of class, students that read the same article should get together and distill the most important themes, concepts, and problems in their paper. Once this has been accomplished, mixed groups should be assembled. Make sure that each mixed group has at least one reader from each of the assigned papers. The mixed groups should then distill the most important information in the three papers and come to general conclusions about sustainability based on information provided in the articles.


Action Plans for Sustainability

Each of the mixed groups should then be asked to represent government, business, non-profit and nongovernmental organizations, or civil society. Each group should draw up a sustainability plan for the section of society they represent. The plans should include the responsibilities of each group to support sustainability and how that group might promote and implement sustainable practices. Students in these groups should discuss and use questions 1-4 to help develop the sustainability plan for their group. Each student in the group should make sure to take note of their sustainability plan to share with the students in the next jigsaw puzzle mix up.


Next, combine one member from each group to form new groups (for example, 1 business, 1 NGO, 1 government, 1 civil society member form a group). Mixed groups should discuss insights gained from questions 1-4 and begin discussing questions 5-10. For the last part of the class get together with the whole class, share what each group learned and finish discussing questions 5-10.


Within Group Discussion

Within your group, discuss the following questions:


Question 11.c.1

What are the similarities and differences between cultural and biological evolution?


Question 11.c.2

How could the people you represent be encouraged to act for the common good by conserving resources?


Question 11.c.3

Why is instilling fear about the future a poor way to spark change? What other methods appeal to people and subsequently generate change?


Question 11.c.4

Brainstorm and suggest programs the people you represent could implement to create a more sustainable society.


Share Your Insights

Share what each group has learned and discuss the following topics with all four groups:


Question 11.c.5

Discuss the four strategies that societies have developed to redefine their self-interest and use a longer-term perspective about resource conservation. What are the pros and cons of each?


Question 11.c.6

What are the costs and benefits of implementing a program such as the San Jose, California, garbage collection program? Should more programs like this be implemented?


Question 11.c.7

What responsibility does business have to create a more sustainable society? What incentives are needed for businesses to become zero waste producing like the Asahi Brewery, Sanyo, Canon and Toyota Corporations in Japan?


Question 11.c.8

What responsibility does government have to create a more sustainable society? What incentives are needed for governments to create a more sustainable society?


Question 11.c.9

What responsibility do you as an individual have to contribute to a more sustainable society?


Question 11.c.10

What role can the media play in creating a more sustainable society?









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