Definitions

Each school, discipline and group is encouraged to apply sustainable development concepts relevant to their local context, profession-industry standards and government and community priorities.

RMIT’s sustainability policy acknowledges that sustainability is currently concerned with:

  • Ensuring a legacy for future generations, human and non-human, so they enjoy at least an equal level of well-being and life prospect, as do present generations;
  • Fostering an alertness to the serious threats posed by human action to life-sustaining natural environments and, hence, to human society, and developing individual citizens and communities that are prepared to contribute proactively to effecting necessary lifestyle and livelihood changes;
  • Enabling all people to realise their potential in ways that do not harm, but rather protect, and even enhance, the planet’s life support systems;
  • Living and learning within an understanding that all dimensions of human experience – cultural, economic, environmental, health and social – are radically and dynamically interconnected, therefore mutually impacting;
  • Appreciating that equity and social justice across present generations, and between present and future generations, as well as environmental justice and responsibility, are essential prerequisites for a healthy and peaceful human condition.

We have recently updated our content and data in the United Nations Higher Education for Sustainable Development portal. UNESCO defines Sustainable Development as “the balanced integration of social and environmental objectives with economic development”.

These three aspects of sustainable development – society, environment and economics – were named as the three pillars of sustainable development at the World Summit on Sustainable Development [PDF, 1.0 MB, 176 pages] in Johannesburg in 2002. In Education for Sustainable Development the three pillars of sustainable development are:

  • Society
    An understanding of social institutions and their role in change and development, as well as the democratic and participatory systems which give opportunity for the expression of opinion, the selection of governments, the forging of consensus and the resolution of differences.
  • Environment
    An awareness of the resources and fragility of the physical environment and the affects on it of human activity and decisions, with a commitment to factoring environmental concerns into social and economic policy development.
  • Economy
    Skills to earn a living as well as a sensitivity to the limits and potential of economic growth and its impact on society and on the environment, with a commitment to assess personal and societal levels of consumption out of concern for the environment and for social justice.

RMIT is a signatory to The Tailloires Declaration [PDF, 74 KB, 1 page], with the University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (2008) requiring “the critical activities of a higher education institution be ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable, and that they will continue to be so for future generations…these concepts are emphasised in curriculum and research, preparing students to contribute as working citizens to an environmentally healthy and equitable society.

Australia’s national Office of Learning & Teaching Education for Sustainability further defines it as “making decisions that do not have negative consequences for either current or future generations. It implies both the preservation of natural resources and a commitment to human and societal wellbeing”. Education for Sustainability, colloquially known as EfS, incorporates the principles of sustainable design “the careful nesting of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world”.

Australia’s national ‘Sustainability Curriculum Framework: A guide for curriculum developers and policy makers’ defines Education for Sustainability as “education for sustainability means that students will be able to assess competing viewpoints, values and interests; manage uncertainty and risk; make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, ideas and outcomes; and test evidence and propose creative solutions that lead to improved sustainability”.