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Paula Jones, David Selby and Stephen Sterling (editors) (2010), Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice across Higher Education, New York: Earthscan

Paula Jones, David Selby and Stephen Sterling (editors) (2010), Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice across Higher Education, New York: Earthscan, 364pp
ISBN: 978-1-84407-877-6 (hardback), 978-1-84407-878-3 (paperback)

 

Review by Zartasha Athar[1], Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

Sustainability Education is a ground-breaking resource for Higher Education (HE) in the UK for several reasons. The book explores the long-term and practical integration of the spheres of sustainability and HE (particularly universities). This is achieved through a series of chapters providing a deep insight into a wide range of perspectives on the integration of sustainability in university education. The contents are well organised, enabling the reader to embark on a journey. Beginning with a holistic, international overview of the current measures taken to promote sustainability in university education and principal inhibitors in the Introduction, the book then dives into deeper realms of various disciplines in social sciences and pure sciences. The latter stages of the book also examine the life of sustainability beyond university, once students have graduated and entered into the professional world.

This book is particularly useful for assessing the current popular measure for integrating sustainability into the HE curriculum: interdisciplinarity. In 'More than the sum of their parts?', Jones, Selby and Sterling explore key issues regarding its implementation, which are derived from a survey carried out by HEFCE. This enables the book to highlight factors such as costs for 'financial administration', the barriers created by the 'Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) Categories', and the existence of much interdisciplinary work in grey literature, which causes much research to focus on single disciplines (p. 28). Along with the benefits of collaborative research, this book indicates underlying inhibitors associated with implementing interdisciplinary, which are often not as prominently explored.

Other authors explore the issues regarding the implementation of interdisciplinary, from the vital perspective of the academics themselves. The concept of 'the hidden curriculum' (Cotton and Winter, p. 45), in particular, grasps the reader's attention immediately. They demonstrate that academics, especially tutors, play a crucial role in shaping students' perception on sustainability, especially 'though the ethos and values of the institution, which 'incorporates the messages sent by an individual tutor or an institution to student, often unconsciously and covertly, about how they ought to think and behave' (p.45).

Another refreshing aspect of the book is its in-depth focus on the long-term impact of sustainability initiatives on graduates in the work environment. In their chapter 'Sustainability and Built Environmental Professionals', Bradley, Sayce and Lewis examine the concept of sustainability as a paradigm itself. Important points are raised, such as the inclusion of the term 'sustainable' in course titles of individual modules being 'at best a recognition that the principles are only an add-on and not an integral part of the approach' (p. 266). This opens the gates to a unique perspective, enabling the reader to apply an upstream approach to the spheres of sustainability and HE. Rather than integrating the term into the curriculum, it raises the possibility of it already being deeply embedded and being of second nature to the curriculum.

This book draws from a wide range of existing literature, initiatives and research. The key materials prominent in most chapters seem to be drawn from HEFCE and the University of Plymouth. While Plymouth acts as a hub for universities in the UK in the earlier chapters, towards the end, the book provides a broader perspective by providing examples from other universities. In 'Engineering Our World Towards a Sustainable Future', Steiner explores case studies from universities including the University of Bath to demonstrate the implementation of a learning approach which engages with students, e.g. 'The Royal Academy of Engineering's Visiting Professor Scheme' (p. 176). Nevertheless, one improvement for future works could be detailed examples of sustainability initiatives from a wider range of universities. This, combined with an in-depth perspective of students themselves could provide a greater insight into the implementation of these initiatives.

Sustainability Education is certainly useful for conducting research in the future of HE and the role of sustainability. It raises key issues, which should be taken into account when promoting sustainability within universities and work environments. This book has equipped me with the precise tools required for acting as an effective change agent in the longer run by exploring both structural and interactional dynamics within a university. It inspires creative thinking and raises common, yet often unexplored issues, which is crucial for future policy making and curriculum development in the realm of HE.


Review by Mark Boulet[2], Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Monash University

Universities have a large environmental footprint. The diverse and large-scale teaching and research activities that take place in most Higher Education (HE) institutions, as well as the different aspects of campus management, result in high energy, water and materials consumption, as well as large volumes of waste production and greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet there is a potentially larger environmental impact from the HE sector; namely the result of graduates applying the skills, ideas and discipline paradigms taught to them during their time at university. Without sustainability in mind, and in action, they perpetuate existing environmental problems (and create new ones) by following a 'business as usual' approach in corporations, industry, government and schools.

The challenge for HE institutions is therefore not only to 'green' their campus operations and manage their direct environmental impact, but to answer the question posed by Jones, Selby and Sterling in Sustainability Education, namely: 'How can disciplines "embed" sustainability into their theory and practice in a way that is consistent with the huge challenges that sustainability-related issues present to graduates?' Can sustainability be integrated into curriculum and teaching in universities so that graduates contribute to sustainability solutions rather than just continue existing problems?

Sustainability Education provides an overview of the progress that universities are making towards answering this question, with great strides being acknowledged in greener campus operations, while identifying more piecemeal approaches to integration into the curriculum. It explores the connections between sustainability education, interdisciplinarity and innovative pedagogy, arguing that interdisciplinarity provides an approach to address sustainability issues, while the often complex, contested and 'values-based' nature of sustainability calls for pedagogy that is student-centred and participatory rather than the more traditional 'sage on stage' approach.

Much of Sustainability Education is taken up by a series of chapters from different authors exploring the interface between sustainability and their particular discipline. An eclectic range of disciplines are featured, from business studies, law and nursing, to economics, theology and social work. This challenges the notion that sustainability education 'belongs' only to the geographical, environmental science and biological fields, and provides analysis and examples of what this might look like in other disciplines.

While (relatively) considerable attention has already been given to sustainability education in primary and secondary education, similar work in the tertiary space has been much slower and patchy. This is one of the first books to address comprehensively the issue of sustainability education in HE, and both to attempt a synthesis of the current state of play in the sector, and to present case studies from different disciplines. As such, it is very timely and relevant, as well as urgently needed.

The editors and authors are thoughtful in their exploration of the book's different themes, as well as passionate in their advocacy for reform and renewal of curriculum and teaching (as well as research). The book also mirrors good practice for integrating sustainability education in HE by asking academics from different disciplines to explore the nexus between their discipline and sustainability, and to identify relevant ways to integrate this into their teaching. This is more powerful and appropriate than a sustainability education 'specialist' imposing what s/he believes should happen in a particular field.

While a chapter did provide a high-level overview of sustainability education in different regions across the world, much of the specific context and case studies are UK-centric, which reduces its relevance to readers from outside this country. The different case studies often tended to remain high-level explorations of the relevance of sustainability to a particular discipline, but lacked detailed examples on how this could then be reflected in actual changed curriculum, and how academics could be both engaged and supported to enable this.

Sustainability Education makes a strong case for infusing sustainability education in HE. The challenge now is not just its broad-scale implementation across institutions and the sector, but also to collect the evidence of its effectiveness. Does a curriculum that has integrated sustainability attract more students? Does it lead to better teaching and learning outcomes? Does it make 'better' graduates from across disciplines who are equipped and ready to engage with sustainability challenges? And does this all actually lead to better environmental outcomes?

The editors acknowledge the size of the challenge: 'it requires learning within educational systems, not just learning through educational systems', and at the same time offer hope: 'there is evidence of a strong upwelling of interest in sustainability in HE [and], we think deeper change has a winning chance.'


Review by Muyiwa Oyinlola[3], School of Engineering, University of Warwick

Sustainability Education examines the state of play of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Higher Education (HE). The initial chapters focus on interdisciplinary and international perspectives while the later chapters are discipline specific. The book as a whole gives an insight into the current trends as well as the successes, obstacles and challenges of implementing ESD.

The editors do a fantastic job in drawing together the work of several scholars and are able to demonstrate how each discipline can significantly contribute to ESD. The book clearly highlights innovative opportunities, benefits and challenges in a wide range of disciplines. It is particularly interesting to read how the authors deal with disciplines where sustainability is not regarded as 'natural territory', such as dance, drama, music, theology, social work, media, linguistics and teacher training. For example, in linguistics, Canning points out the relationship between language and the environment commonly referred to as 'ecolingustics' which has been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century (p. 299). Another interesting language concept examined by Canning is how sustainability concepts can be lost or watered down when translated to other languages. In music, Kleiman highlights how a consumer mentality can be fuelled by the words of a musical piece (especially popular music), how a polluted environment can negatively impact musicians and sustainability in music consumption for example in CD production, electroplating, energy consumed in concerts, musical gadget production and disposal, etc. (p. 166) .

The authors discuss how some disciplines have been engaging in ESD even though it has not been explicitly described as that. For example, Stuerzenhofecker, O'Loughlin and Smith point out that theology deals with a critical understanding of the role of humanity in relation to creation, which can be considered as having something to do with sustainability. Also, Plumridge points out that economics has been concerned with major elements of sustainability since the 18th century. With the use of case studies, the authors discuss the opportunities presented in different disciplines and offer practical tips and benefits of embedding ESD across the curriculum in different disciplines.

By reviewing activities in various institutions, the book presents innovative teaching and learning models which will serve as an excellent means of incorporating ESD into the curriculum. Jones, Selby and Sterling also present a case for Sustainability Education as a catalyst for curriculum renewal in terms of interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives, emphasising transferable lessons which allow readers to learn from examples outside their own area to embed sustainability within their own curricula. The book benefits from a strong selection of contributors; this gives it a deep and wide perspective on Sustainability Education. The authors' use of language is excellent; there are catchy chapter titles such as 'Costing the Earth: The economics of Sustainability in the Curriculum' for the chapter on economics, while that on language is 'Translating Words into Action and Actions into Words: Sustainability in Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Curricula'.

Though it provides a brief insight into international trends, the majority of the discussion centres on institutions in the United Kingdom, which could be a limiting factor for its application on the international scene. Similarly, the case studies used are narrowed to specific institutions, and hence may not be an accurate representation of Sustainability Education in HE more generally.

On a personal note, the book had an impact on the consolidation of my knowledge gained as a Green Steps participant. My internship was focused on ESD; reading this book gave me a wider perspective on the subject area. The knowledge gained from reading this book will be useful in implementing some of the recommendations made during the internship as well as in my career in sustainability.

In summary, Sustainability Education critically examines how HE institutions are moving from embracing sustainability only in their operations to incorporating it into their core business of teaching; it further offers innovative ways in which this can be actualised. It is a good read for stakeholders in HE, especially those having responsibility for curriculum renewal, as well as for sustainability enthusiasts.


 

Notes

[1] Zartasha Athar is a third-year Sociology student at the University of Warwick. In her first year of study, she was accepted for the Renmin Summer School Exchange programme. As a result, her interests in the concept and attitudes towards sustainability stem from her travelling and educational experience in China. She pursued this interest further in her second year of study through the 'Green Steps @ Warwick' programme. As a Green Steps intern, she worked on a collaborative research project alongside students at Monash and Warwick university to promote education for sustainability at both institutions.

[2] Mark manages the award winning Green Steps program at the Monash Sustainability Institute (MSI) and is passionate about providing people with practical, hands-on sustainability skills to create change in organisations and the wider community. His team deliver sustainability training programs across Australia to university students, businesses, and the public and community sectors
Mark has over 12 years' experience in environmental education and organizational sustainability in higher education, community groups and the public service. Prior to working for Green Steps, Mark managed the Green Office sustainability program at Monash University, engaged multicultural communities in sustainable living at Environment Victoria and evaluated community sustainability programs at the Office of the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.
Mark holds a Masters in Environmental Science, a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment and an Advanced Diploma in Collaborative Management. His leading contribution through Green Steps was recognised as one of the Top 100 most influential and inspiring people for 2010 by the Melbourne Magazine (Fairfax Media). He was also awarded an Australian Leadership Award in 2011 by the prestigious Australian Davos Connection Forum.

[3] Muyiwa Oyinlola holds a B. Eng. in Mechanical Engineering and an MSc Renewable Energy Engineering. He is in 2nd year of PhD Study in the School of Engineering with a research focus on high performance flat plate solar thermal collectors. His main research interests lie in the wider area of Sustainable energy and he is interested in a career that will promote the uptake of Renewable energy technologies in bridging the global energy gap.

To cite any of these reviews please use the following details: Athar, Z. OR Boulet, M. OR Oyinola, M.(2013), 'Book Review: Paula Jones, David Selby and Stephen Sterling (editors) (2010), Sustainability Education: Perspectives and Practice across Higher Education', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 6, Issue 1, www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue1/atharbouletoyinola Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite these reviews or use them in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.