CSF101 Defining sustainability and sustainable development (session 4)

CSF101 (session 1) – the inspiring challenge.
CSF101 (session 2) – understanding systems.
CSF101 (session 3) – how the earth works.

OK. I’m on the home run with session 4. We are thinking about defining sustainability again, and Steven Henry in his opening video says part of the problem is we’ve put man at the centre of the problem. In reality, nature is at the centre of the problem and we are a component of that. Steve’s most important message to me is that this is where we’ve gone wrong by putting ourselves and our needs first, rather than thinking of ourselves as part of the system.

For me sustainability means?

We think about it in terms of achieving one big shiney goal. What we need to do is think about the sustainability of all the component parts, that then as a whole, can offer something of a viable future. I guess that is how the body works. Some body systems might be healthier than others – I wouldn’t want to vouch for my liver these days. But the sum of the parts, is still something that is overall healthy. I’ve a hernia and diverticulitis, but the systems are acting all around to create health. I’ve suggested this with sustaining open educational resources – bung them out on at least two platforms at a time, and when one dies, you can repopulate from the other.

Steve Henry Sustainability Models

Steve suggests the most realistically accepted model is that on the right. Financial decisions drive all of our considerations. I think this absolutely must be part of the challenge – now that sustainability has become a business, approaches will be guided by those with a vested interest, and wrong choices might be being made by those clearly in for making a profit. Perhaps this is the sacrifice if we want to be making big changes, but are we really making big enough changes?

A bit like open educational resources (OER) again. Nobody wants to pay for them, but if we all share the cost, then that is almost negligible. If we share our knowledge and outputs of our teaching as ‘part of what we do’, then that five minutes a week is negligible. The same with sustainability. As a society we all need to know what to do to ‘do our bit’. I hate sorting out the rubbish each week into elaborate piles for recycling. It couldn’t be more confusing. But if this is making a difference then it is essential.

Henry Sustainability Model








Do we just accept this model?

Dr Robert (Founder of the Natural Step) talks about the ‘triple bottom line’ – that is, social, ecological and financial basis. The economics drives the approach, and is the means for everything else. The solutions are about the design of products and services.

What do I think?

I have worked in a global blue-chip company. If we think businesses and business people will ALL share the same ethical values for the good of society and ecology, then I we will be very much disappointed. There are a number of genuinely ethical companies out there, but how can the economic goals place nature and society as a priority above profit? It won’t happen. Are pharmaceutical companies really concerned about curing disease? Are food manufacturers really concerned about our health? I’m not talking about individuals in those companies who will be highly motivated toward the common good, but the overall business objectives will be to make money.

What is missing from the models above is an ethical or moral component. I also think tackling sustainability through business will never be big enough. We need each and every person on the planet to champion the cause.

Meeting basic human needs and building communities

Manfred Max-Neef, Antonio Elizalde and Martin Hopenhayn have listed 9 basic human needs to survive and to integrate as a society: things like food/water, freedom, culture and education is in there. I do think though that some people are driven by the very need to make money, or to achieve positions of power. For the model to work, we’d have to integrate this also. More can be found on Wikipedia – fundamental human needs. The glue that sticks individuals together is the need for trust, that is how we form friendships, groups, communities and society.

Definitions and frameworks

The Brundtland Commission, dissolved in 1987 and defined sustainable development in their report of that same year:

Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

(Our Common Future, Report 1987).

Karl-Henrik Robèrt, an oncologist, took up the reigns around that time and thought about the components / stuff that were unsustainable in society:

  1. substances extracted from the Earth’s crust
  2. substances produced by society
  3. degradation by physical means
  4. in that society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs

These can be applied to any situation to formulate a sustainability plan, so for education, well, let’s have a go.

  1. eliminate the use of precious resources – e.g. teaching materials that are not share, or work discarded from people who retire (paper / electronic = trees / chemicals); time wasted by not sharing (staff productivity = energy and natural resources).
  2. eliminate the build up of toxic substances – e.g. imagine the scale of schools / education institutions around the world and the waste therein; laboratory waste material; physical materials from arts classes; discarded old computers and technology; discarded old furniture and materials.
  3. degradation of local environments by campus building.
  4. meet the basic needs – including a right and access to education.

There is much work to be done there. That is the topic for future research, workshops and brainstorms. I can’t possibly paint such an intricate picture on my own. I do like Robèrt’s model though, that works for me.

Working toward a summary of my learning on this course.

This course has been fantastic. I can’t recall being so gripped by something – and yes, the time commitment is quite significant. I’ve only given things a superficial and quick think over, but there is so much work to be done here. One of the final questions asks us to think about trends:

  1. Analyse trends, issues and opportunities that will influence future activity and generations in a chosen sector.

I suppose for education, there might be winners and losers here:

  1. Globally, education is expanding – so this will bring the need to address all of the points above, reducing the use of precious resources and minimising waste and the environmental impact.
  2. Growth of online learning – that must be a winner, reducing the need to physically travel to campuses and institutions, but there is again an energy cost, and impact on natural resources required to build our digital capability.
  3. In the UK, certainly growth in numbers of education providers and move to bring new private providers into the market. Business and profits might not mean thinking about sustainability here.
  4. As time goes on, the repeat production of learning materials / resources / lecture slides becomes incalculable.



4 thoughts on “CSF101 Defining sustainability and sustainable development (session 4)

  1. I Viv

    I’m inspired by your reflections on the CSF101 course – clearly your background in the sciences plus experience in open education makes a noticeable difference. I’m feeling guilty about my shoddy performance in the course to date, especially given my passion for thinking about open and sustainable education futures.

    Juggling a few to many balls at the moment running the trails for tech improvements on the OERu platform etc.

    I was intrigued by your reply on Twitter re route for independent tutors (https://twitter.com/VivienRolfe/status/767280546254876673) – This is an important part of the evolving openEd ecosystem.

    Of interest, any Educator in the world could host their own course site on WordPress publishing (and tweaking) an OERu course that was authored in WikiEducator. In fact the OERu WordPress theme we’re using was developed by local UK talent (@patlockley) — I’m not sure if you’re aware but the CSF course materials were authored in WikiEducator and with the help of a little technology magic we can publish a WordPress course site.

    All open source, so lots of opportunities for future sustainability.

    • Thanks Wayne – what a course!! It certainly made me think, some of which hopefully made sense!!! Yes, these things take a huge commitment of time, but this course had me gripped.

      Are you at Opened this year? It would be good to brainstorm more around this subject. I think there would also be funding in it for some ethnographic study to map out all the facets of education / sustainability etc, perhaps using some of the frameworks presented on the course.

      Thanks for sharing the tech details – all hail @patlockely – he is great. This is my stumbling to being a tech person really, but try and muddle through. I’d certainly be interested in contributing / and hosting courses. The question is one of IPR and what falls outside of my institution. All important questions for sustainability!!

      Catch you soon Wayne,

  2. Hi Viv
    What a joy to read your blogs about CSF101. AS the instructional designer on the team, it is great to see a “student” getting so involved and enjoying the course.
    As always any ideas you have for improvements are very welcome. 🙂

    • Hi Carol

      You really did have me gripped! This was so well done. I did just note that toward the end some of the ‘next’ tabs didn’t work, although it didn’t matter as you could go back into the main menu. I did for a minute thing I’d miss the end of the course!!


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