SOS-UK wants to see sustainability embedded across the whole of the formal education sector, moving it beyond something seen as a ‘niche’ subject. SOS-UK knows that urgent change is needed to tackle the injustices and unsustainability in our world and education is a key driving force for addressing this.
What do we mean by sustainability?
Sustainability is the process for progressing social, environmental and economic betterment in parallel with one another, to ensure a balanced approach is taken that is just and fair for all. It aims to create a planet where all living and non-living things can thrive.
Check out the examples shared in this guide to help you find a degree programme that is already embedding and exploring sustainability, and to see how the courses you are interested in have the potential to help equip you with the necessary knowledge skills, competencies and attributes to contribute to abetter world.
SOS-UK thank Alex Shepherd, Unifrog intern (2021) for her excellent work creating this sustainable courses guide to help students find the right courses for them, and realise their potential to bring together their interests and skills to create a better world for all.
In the world of art and design, sustainability means creating in ways that do not damage or negatively affect the planet, or even contribute towards progressing sustainability. This could be through using environmentally friendly materials, using processes with low energy consumption, creating art that visualises or tells the story of sustainable societies and justice, or even using art and design to create green spaces.
For example, the architect Renzo Piano created the ‘living roof’ at the California Academy of Sciences as both a habitat for local wildlife, and as a way of reducing the building’s carbon footprint by avoiding the need for air conditioning and providing 5% of the building’s electricity needs.
Similarly, New Zealand based fashion designer Maggie Marilyn only designs with ethically sourced, sustainable materials that are shipped in plant based packaging. She also focuses on creating pieces that have longevity so that they survive changing fashion trends, and that are reasonably priced so everyone can afford them. Check out the courses below:
Sustainability is increasingly relevant in the world of performing arts. For example, as artists use their platform to tell stories, this is a great way to raise awareness about key sustainable issues like conservation, rewilding, and energy consumption. Equally, when live performances are only showing for a limited period of time, or touring across different cities, it’s a perfect opportunity to consider using recycled materials for sets, and sustainable methods of travel. Some performers also stage their work in environmentally significant areas to highlight their beauty and worth in the hopes that their audience will better appreciate them.
An example of the intersection between sustainability and performing arts is UK charity Julie’s Bicycle’s work to engage influential performers to speak out against climate change and motivate others to get involved in protecting the world. In 2019,they were instrumental in creating the Music Declares a climate and Ecological Emergency declaration that outlines how the music industry can reduce their environmental impact, and that calls on governments across the world to work harder to protect the earth. Find out more using the links at the bottom of this guide.
Similarly, the drama group Eco Drama in Scotland focus on sustainable travel and using their art to inspire people across the country to take action against climate change. They also support teachers and early years practitioners to incorporate outdoor learning into their storytelling and imaginative play sessions. Check out the courses below:
Amongst others, history, philosophy, politics, can all be studied with sustainability in mind.
Environmental history is a good example of this; combining social, political, and economic history, to understand the way our values and relationship with sustainability has changed over time. The goal of environmental history is to understand how humans have affected, and have been affected by, their natural environment.
It’s not just historians branching out to study the importance of sustainability, but philosophers and political activists too. ‘Philosophers for Sustainability’ are using their professional studies to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change, through teaching, research, advocacy, and community engagement. At the moment, this group is working on a number of sustainability projects which could inspire you in your own pursuits, for example, a series of workshops on local sustainable practices in philosophy, aimed at philosophy departments and philosophical communities across the world. In the world of politics, activists are taking huge steps to encourage governments to do more to protect people and the planet . For example,11-year-old Jude is walking 200 miles from Yorkshire to London in support of a petition to introduce a nationwide carbon tax. There are a huge number of ways to encourage sustainability in the humanities, and these are just a few great examples of those people doing their bit. Check out the courses below:
Social sciences are increasingly looking to focus on the way we interact with our environment, for example, environmental psychology focusing on how environmental conditions influence people and how individuals perceive and act on the environment. When we think of sustainability more holistically, there is a huge amount of overlap between social sciences and sustainability, especially when we consider ethics, social justice and well-being.
Social scientists across the globe are looking to improve society and society’s interaction with the planet without exploiting the natural world. For example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlined by the United Nations in 2015 focuses on ensuring humans follow a path that prevents further damage and attempts to mitigate some of the devastating impacts we have already had on the planet. By meeting goals for more accessible, quality education in low-income countries, we not only improve the lives of people but also educate young people on the importance of sustainability.
Another example of where sustainability and social sciences collide can be seen with the UK-based company ‘Trilateral Research’. This company works to combine social science and technology to have a sustainable impact, for example, their project ‘aqua 3S’, aims to improve the safety and security of water networks to improve social well being sustainably. Ultimately, social sciences are at the core of improving our relationship with the natural world. Check out the courses below:
Environmental and ethical practices in business are crucial in tackling climate change and progressing sustainability. Businesses have a lot of power and influence when it comes to sustainability, and in today’s world, supporting sustainable development extends well beyond using less paper and flying less. For example, many managers and leaders in the sector have changed their core values to include committing to responsible energy consumption, reducing inequalities, and supporting environmentally friendly technology.
For example, the Swedish furniture store IKEA are committed to using sustainable materials, aim to stock their cafes with at least 50%plant based food, and use renewable energy wherever possible including powering their stores with solar panels. They’ve even started a campaign in the UK to help customers move to green energy suppliers.
Meanwhile, American clothing brand Patagonia has been established and continues to progress a sustainable business model for the last20 years. They have environmental and social responsibility at their core. They have repair tutorials for customers to show them how to fix their clothes rather than throwing them away, they donate 1% of their revenue to environmental groups, and they have pledged to be CO2 neutral by 2025! Check out the courses below:
Working towards a more sustainable planet means using knowledge from areas like forestry, environmental science, and agriculture, as well as social justice and ethics, to make positive progress, and to educate others on this too. Studying earth and animal sciences means you’ll be at the forefront of research that could save the Earth and benefit society! Even if you choose to study something like veterinary medicine, you’ll be learning about animal conservation, rewilding, and preserving natural habitats.
Zoological societies like the British Association of Zoos use their platforms and physical spaces to educate the public on environmental issues, and to protect key species of wildlife in safe, suitable reserves.
Similarly, the Geological Society’s theme of 2020 was the ‘Year of life’ where they led lectures, conferences, and other activities on evolution and biodiversity, engaging the public in conversations on maintaining a diverse ecosystem for the planet’s strongest chance at survival. Check out the courses below:
In the fields of engineering and construction, sustainability is particularly important when considering resource use and management, as well as the social impacts of engineering and construction. Engineering and construction rely on both natural and manmade resources so heavily that without sustainable practices, soon there won’t be enough to go around! You can easily embed sustainability into the world of engineering and construction by considering using eco-friendly resources, researching more environmentally friendly technology, and teaching society about sustainable resource consumption
Engineers at TRUEGRID Pavers in the US have developed permeable paving to prevent flooding, reduce ground pollution, and to eliminate the need for drainage systems. Not only is installing the pavement a more environmentally friendly process than traditional paving, but it also takes less time and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Similarly, Fox Blocks in the US have created building materials that not only cut down the construction process, but actively reduce energy usage and are more likely to survive natural disasters than traditional building material in the US. Check out the courses below:
There are a number of examples where the worlds of mathematics and sustainability collide, after all, maths allows us to develop the skills of problem-solving and reasoning, which are so essential for the exploration of sustainability issues and solutions.
The connection between these two worlds is all around us, and there are a number of examples of experts who are taking steps to achieve sustainability in maths. For example, take professor Simon Levin, who identified the three mathematical challenges towards achieving sustainability in his 2013 opinion piece or the UN organisation ‘mathematics for planet earth’ which promotes mathematical research to identify major ecological problems, or even the sustainable Australian maths teacher, teaching his students about the effects of oil spills using graphs. Check out the courses below:
You might be surprised to learn that health is actually a key part of social and environmental sustainability. In order to have global sustainable development, it must meet essential human needs, which are housing, water supply, sanitation, and healthcare. Today, sustainability and health care go hand in hand, and there are a number of examples that highlight the importance of this field.
In recognition of the health implications of air pollution and carbon emissions, the National Health Service (NHS) has launched a plan for ‘Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ NHS’. The plan includes addressing practices in healthcare , medicines and supply chains, transport and travel, and heating and lighting.
The UK-based Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has designed a ‘Green Space for health’ program with the flagship project ‘the NHS forest’. This involves planting trees on, or near, NHS land. Not only does this create therapeutic environments for patients, but also greatly benefits the natural environment. As trees act as natural climate solutions, they serve to lock up carbon, provide shade, and prevent flooding. So far, 70,000 trees have been planted, and at University Hospital, Coventry, a new nature reserve was developed with an otter holt, a conservation pond, and local apple varieties.
In addition to this project, there are a number of professionals who focus their careers on sustainability in healthcare. One individual working at the intersection of health care and the eco-friendly world is doctor and environmentalist Lester Brown, who has published more than 50 books on how human systems (like food digestion) react to environmental and climate change. His work serves to highlight the connection between these two disciplines. Check out the courses below:
It’s probably no surprise that sustainability goes hand in hand with the world of science. After all, the research, projects, and processes that are undertaken in this field can all be done with sustainability in mind; creating progress that isn’t at the expense of the natural environment and having a positive impact in both the short and long term.
An example of such sustainability in science can be seen by the actions taken by The American Chemistry Society, which is developing new technologies for sustainable ammonia production, and also for phosphate recovery and re-purposing. And that’s not all, the non-for-profit organisation ‘The Company of Biologists’ launched the sustainable conference initiative which is designed to enable biologists to collaborate remotely from across the world to minimise their impact on the environment, for example through reducing their air miles. In this way, you can see that sustainability isn’t just about the science itself, but also the manner in which the research is undertaken by scientists and their behaviours.
As sustainability becomes a growing part of the science world, it has also become a greater part of the school curriculum. Topics within physics like thermodynamics and magnetism are more and more often studied with sustainability for the future in mind. Further to this, nuclear physicists such as A.J Koning have begun to detail the ways in which nuclear energy can be more sustainable. Check out the courses below: