What IS Sustainability, anyway?

Session 01

ES/SO352 Sustainability - Session 01

S1: What IS Sustainability, anyway?

Required readings

  • none

Goals (for today)

  • Learn what the course will cover over the semester
  • Understand that one concept can have many valid definitions: some shorter than others.
  • Learn what is "Human Sustainability" and "Sustainability" (in strict sense)
  • Get introduced to some of the topics of this course with some introductory video ("The Story of Stuff" or others).
  • Learn how to register in the course website


passcode: iesbarcelona2017spring


  • Class discussion
  • Reader: readings must be completed BEFORE coming to class
  • Videos
  • Analysis (System diagrams, SWOT analysis, ...)
  • On site classes
  • Course related excursions (discoverIES Social Organic Farm)
  • Class Project
    • "FInal Paper", but Over the duration of the course:
      we will design and implement actions that will improve the sustainability of IES community.


  1. Class participation (20%)
  2. Mid-term exam (20%)
  3. Assignments and pop quizzes (20%)
  4. Class project (20%)
  5. Final exam (20%)


By the end of the course, students are able to:

  • recognize the fundamental principles of social, environmental and economic sustainability;
  • identify problem areas where unsustainable practices are prevalent and destructive;
  • analyze complex problems utilizing the precepts of systems analysis;
  • apply a critical sustainability lens to current events; governmental and inter-governmental policy, and other institutions of modern life;
  • reflect on their own values regarding a sustainable life-style, and integrate meaningful sustainable practices in their lifestyle

What is Sustainability?

Define in small groups (agree a common definition)

What is Sustainability?

Concept is two fold:

  1. Human Sustainability on planet Earth
    Since 1980, part of the concept sustainable development, that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations (1987):
    • ‚Äúsustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
    • Economic, Social and Environmental of Human Sustainability.
  2. "Sustain-ability", In strict sense:
    • The ability to sustain a system for future generations
      (short and generic definition, in purpose)
    • Resources in a system: material and immaterial (like "knowledge")

Watch this video with your "critical thinking abilities"

Video "Sustainability explained through animation"

What is the prolem with this view of Sustainability, and its four principles?

Video "The story of stuff"


Which are the solutions proposed in this Video?

Extra resources

  • "What is Sustainability". Marian Brown, from Ithaca College
    • http://youtu.be/62bcBOeUMUM (20')
    • This presentation offers an "operational" definition of sustainability, one that may help the viewer move past the concept of sustainability as a "lofty goal" into strategies to take direct personal action to become more sustainable.

Page last modified on Tuesday 17 of January, 2017 16:11:39