WASI's Designing for Sustainability program is a curriculum development project that demonstrates an ecology-driven approach to sustainability science.
1. What is Designing for Sustainability?
Designing for Sustainability (DfS) is a curriculum development project that demonstrates an ecology-driven approach to sustainability science. This approach is also referred to as "Ecological Sustainability."
2. What is Sustainability Science?
Sustainability Science is an emerging academic field that has distinguished itself as a change-agent science, and as a three-domain science with its inclusion of the three pillars of sustainability: the environment, human systems, and the economy.
Yarime et al (2012) in their research article Establishing Sustainability Science in Higher Education Institutions, define sustainability science as follows:
|"The field of sustainability science aims to understand the complex and dynamic interactions between natural and human systems in order to transform and develop these in a sustainable manner" (p. 101).
3. What does an "ecology-driven approach to sustainability science" mean?
The word, Ecology, comes from the Greek word oikos meaning "household." So Ecology means study of the “Earth household." And, it was the discovery of quantum physics in the early 20th century that dramatically changed our understanding of how earth's household actually operates. If you don't understand how something operates, how can you repair it?
Quantum physics, as a revolutionary turning point in science, also created a major scientific movement and method of inquiry called systems thinking. The science of Ecology does play a large role in teaching Ecological Sustainability. However, it is the scientific knowledge and worldview change from 17th century mechanistic Newtonian physics to 20th century quantum physics and an ecological understanding of our world, that form the theoretical and pedagogical foundation of Ecological Sustainability.
4. What distinguishes Ecological Sustainability in the Sustainability Science field?
Ecological Sustainability maintains that of the three domains of sustainability, the environmental domain must be the primary model and informer of remedy.
5. How does the environmental domain of sustainability act as the primary model and informer of remedy?
The premise here is, the natural world already knows how to sustain all life. Luckily, the natural world adheres to proven patterns and processes that repeat over and over. This means it is possible to distill nature's patterns and processes into principles.
Dr. Fritjof Capra, world-renowned physicist, author, and co-founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy, calls these principles "Ecological Principles." He also refers to them as the "language of nature."
6. The Ecological Principles or "language of nature" distill how life on this planet operates?
Yes. The patterns and process outlined by the nine Ecological Principles distill how all living systems operate on this planet. This living systems-in-environment structure is also referred to as the living systems framework. The patterns and processes used by living systems in interaction with their environment work very differently than mechanical systems.
7. Can the "language of nature" be taught to children?
Yes. The Center for Ecoliteracy spent decades developing their Schooling for Sustainability pedagogy through thousands of educators across many types of K-12 schools. Schooling for Sustainability is outlined in their book Smart by Nature. The Center's Director of Education for nine years, Dr. Carolie Sly - PhD Science Education, worked with WASI/Andrea Knighton and Northfield School of the Liberal Arts/Becky Elder to develop the first iteration of the Designing for Sustainability curriculum.
8. Can Ecological Sustainability be taught in Higher Education?
Yes. As outlined above, it is a specific approach to sustainability science.
It is important to point out that Social Work‒a long-established behavioral science and true sociology-psychology hybrid‒officially adopted the living systems framework in the 1970s. With some minor modifications, Social Work's change-agent, practitioner-based, person-in-environment pedagogy is a perfect pedagogical match for Ecological Sustainability. In addition, Social Work is a proven revenue producer for universities, world-wide.
9. Ecological Sustainability curriculum can be developed for all levels of education?
Yes. Pedagogically one progresses from K-12 whole-person teaching (head, heart, hands) to Higher Education's practitioner-based professional training (knowledge, values, skills).
Universities are in perfect position to offer trans-disciplinary interaction across many sectors in their communities to aid in the development of ecological sustainability solutions such as regenerative and urban agriculture to rebuild local foodsheds, increased recycling, biomimicry engineering, urban planning and ecological design, formal training in systems thinking and system dynamics, community economics development, renewable energy, and many other economic re-localization strategies.