Big Ideas in Sustainability

Sustainability includes a very large number of concepts and ideas. This list of some of the big ideas in sustainability was generated by participants of the 2010 Workshop.
  • time matters
  • systems thinking
  • scale
  • incentives
  • actions have consequences
  • ethics of growth
  • culture matters
  • connectiveness
  • sustainability is a process, not a destination
  • trade-offs and choices
  • the "good life"
  • information literacy and environmental literacy
  • biomimicry
  • understanding resource origins
  • theoretical as well as applied knowledge
  • dealing with ambiguity
  • paradigm shift
  • the "problem" (?) of disciplinarity
  • community
  • discounting the future
  • humility
  • respect
  • finiteness/limits, atom economy, entropy
  • love
  • quantitative reasoning
  • intentionality
  • commitment
  • indigenous knowledge
  • "blessed unrest"
  • thriving rather than just a surviving

Comments from Participants

"It doesn't look like what I teach."

It doesn't look like the answers Sherman got from his survey.

The list shows we're not good at talking about deepest values.

No single course could do all that.

If we put together a list of characteristics of Liberal Arts institutions, it would look very similar.

What's Missing from the List?

  • Specific content - not necessarily a bad thing, since this is a list of big ideas
  • aesthetics
  • struggle and power
  • cooperation and competition
  • spirituality
  • skills
    • discrimination (real vs. "greenwashing")
  • history and tradition