Sustainability in Life Science Teaching
Sustainability can be defined as the responsible use of resources over an indefinite period of time or as “Meeting our own needs without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). Responsible resource use has become increasingly important as the human population continues to grow and consume natural resources at unprecedented rates. Recently, more than 1000 of the world’s leading scientists reported that:
Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last 50 years than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. …This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth. …
—Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report, 2005
The National Association of Biology Teachers recognizes that humans impact the natural world. Humans depend on natural systems and the resources they provide, and as an organization of educators devoted to the study of life and that which supports it, the National Association of Biology Teachers promotes the teaching of sustainable themes to thoughtfully address the world’s most pressing problems.
Efforts should be made to get students outdoors whenever possible.
Classes and investigations should be held outdoors and lessons should promote the study of natural systems such as rivers, lakes, forests, and oceans and the challenges facing these ecosystems.
Lessons should allow students to express individual leadership and civic action, which promotes long-term visionary thinking and encourages equity, social justice, peace, health and healing.
Topics on renewable energy, energy from the sun and wind, and other renewable resources should be introduced. Schools should make a substantive and demonstrated effort to recycle and conserve energy, water, and other natural resources.
Educators should follow principles and guidance set forth by organizations devoted to the teaching and practice of sustainable living (e.g., Association for the Advancement of Sustainable Living in Higher Education).
Include speakers and special programs in curriculum, especially those featuring noted authorities on population control and resource conservation.
focus on sustainability as a well-integrated topic to address issues of population and consumption.
feature interdisciplinary principles, promoting meaningful dialog and problem solving across disciplines (UNESCO, 2003).
encourage cooperative and coordinated efforts with neighboring schools and universities.
explore how school communities work, including water and energy use, CO2 produced per student, amount of materials procured, amount of materials recycled, amount of locally-grown food served, amount of meals derived from organisms lower on the food chain, amount of food waste composted, amount of waste generated, amount of food waste composted, etc. (Lyons, 2000; Orr, 1994).
promote discussion of environmental and other social issues.
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Online at http://www.aashe.org/.
Lyons, Kevin. (2000). Buying for the Future: Contract Management and the Environmental Challenge. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report. (2005). Online at www.millenniumassessment.org
Orr, David. 1994. Earth in Mind: On Education, the Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Online at www.unesco.org
World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Online at http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/42/ares42-187.htm.
Bartlett, Peggy & Chase, Geoffrey (Eds.). (2004). Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Berry, Wendell. (2006). The Way of Ignorance. Reno, NV: Shoemaker and Hoard.
Carson, Rachel. (1962). Silent Spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Collett, Jonathan & Karakashian, Stephen (Eds.). (1996). Greening the College Curriculum: A Guide to Environmental Teaching in the Liberal Arts. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Ehrlich, Paul & Ehrlich, Anne. (2008). The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Friedman, Thomas. (2008). Hot, Flat, and Crowded: How We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America. New York City, NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Goodall, Jane. (1990). Through a Window. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Gore, Albert. (2006). An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.
Gore, Albert. (1992). Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Hardin, Garrett. (1968). Tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.
Hawkin, Paul. (2007). Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World. New York City, NY: Viking Press.
Hawkin, Paul, Lovins, Amory & Lovins, L. Hunter. (2000). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York City, NY: Back Bay Books.
Hubbell, Sue. (1986). A Country Year: Living the Questions. New York City, NY: Random House.
Isham, Jon & Waage, Sissel (Eds.). (2008). Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. (2006). Fieldnotes of a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Leopold, Aldo. (1949). A Sand County Almanac. New York City, NY: Oxford University Press.
Meadows, Donella, Meadows, Dennis & Randers, Jorgen. (1922). Beyond the Limits to Growth. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
McGrath, Joy. (2007). Sustainable St. Andrew’s: learning for the future. St. Andrew’s Magazine. Winter.
Orr, David. (1994). Earth in Mind: On Education, the Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Orr, David. (1992). Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Tidwell, Michael. (2007). The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities. New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Timpson, William, Dunbar, Brian, Kimmel, Gailmarie, Bruyere, Brett, Newman, Peter & Mizia, Hillary. (2006). 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Sustainability: Connecting the Environment, the Economy, and Society. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
Adopted by the NABT Board of Directors, 2008.