Sustainability Literacy

Worksheet materials were created by Yona Sipos, Alice Cassidy, Sarah Nyrose and Angela Willock, Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG), University of British Columbia (UBC), for use in workshops through TAG and the UBC Sustainability Education Intensive (SEI). Permission is granted for use of these materials provided the following the credit line appears on all copies: [Sipos,Y., A. Cassidy, S. Nyrose © 2006, 2009, 2010 “TAG Sustainability Education,” Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, University of British Columbia]. We ask that you let us know when and how you use or adapt these materials so that we can track all the ways they are being used (the list is growing!). We also welcome contributions of your own materials that you are willing to share; please email tag.sustainability at
Sustainability literacy is increasingly recognized as the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to contribute to a more sustainable world. TAG has been offering workshops on sustainability literacy since 2006, whereby diverse groups of educators and community members would come together to explore the concept and integration of sustainability across the post-secondary curriculum. We used the introductory workshop to help open the SEI, in large part because there remains very few spaces to partake in and celebrate the conversation around defining sustainability. Below and attached are various definitions of sustainability; the worksheet offers a series of questions to guide participants through the exploration of these different perspectives.
Sustainability Definitions
Sustainability Literacy SEI worksheet

[To meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

United Nations General Assembly. 1987. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 – Development and International Co-operation: Environment.


To earn the respect of future generations for the ecological, social and economic legacy we create.

Sustainability Office. Vision Statement. University of British Columbia.


Sustainability is a concept, a goal, and a strategy. The concept speaks to the reconciliation of social justice, ecological integrity and the well being of all living systems on the planet. The goal is to create an ecologically and socially just world within the means of nature without compromising future generations. Sustainability also refers to the process or strategy of moving towards a sustainable future.

Moore, J. 2004. Recreating the University from within: Sustainability and Transformation in Higher Education. Doctoral Dissertation. Department of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia.


Sustainability entails maintenance of: (1) a sustainable scale of the economy relative to its ecological life support system; (2) a fair distribution of resources and opportunities between present and future generations, as well as between agents in the current generation; and (3) an efficient allocation of resources that adequately accounts for natural capital.

Costanza, R. 1994. Three general policies to achieve sustainability. In: Jansson, A., Hammer, M., Folke, C., Costanza, R. (Eds.), Investing in Natural Capital. Island Press, Washington, DC, Ch. 21.


For the concept [of sustainability] to be viable, sustainability must address our material, as well as our non-material needs; both are essential. Realizing this imperative has also compelled me to recognize that, as much as the world we live in is empirical, it is spiritual. Ecological sustainability is as much about our spiritual life as it is about our biophysical survival.

Lertzman, D. A. 2002. Rediscovering rites of passage: education, transformation, and the transition to sustainability. Conservation Ecology 5(2): 30.


Sustainability is the [emerging] doctrine that economic growth and development must take place, and be maintained over time, within the limits set by ecology in the broadest sense – by the interrelations of human beings and their works, the biosphere and the physical and chemical laws that govern it … It follows that environmental protection and economic development are complementary rather than antagonistic processes.

Ruckelshaus, W. D. 1989. Toward a Sustainable World. Scientific American 261(3): 166-174.


The word sustainable has roots in the Latin subtenir, meaning ‘to hold up’ or ‘to support from below.’ A community must be supported from below – by its inhabitants, present and future. Certain places, through the peculiar combination of physical, cultural, and, perhaps, spiritual characteristics, inspire people to care for their community. These are the places where sustainability has the best chance of taking hold.

Martin, M. 1995. Chestnut Hill — A Sustainable Community Profile [Roots], Places: 9(3).


Sustainability means doing things better – not doing without…quite simply, sustainability means living within the earth’s limits. If we want the next generation of Canadians to have the same opportunities that we have had, we have to start changing now. That means including the social and environmental costs of our actions in all of our decision-making processes. It means focusing on the creation of genuine wealth, like health, education and the state of our environment, rather than the accumulation of more stuff. It means moving from being wasteful and complacent, to being efficient, modern and thoughtful.

Suzuki, D. 2004. Foreword, excerpts. In: Boyd., D.R. Sustainability within a Generation: A New Vision for Canada. The David Suzuki Foundation.


Sustainability is living abundantly by meeting basic needs while defending and nurturing the health of bioregional cultures and the life-support systems of planet Earth.

Grimm, K. (2009, in prep.) What is Sustainability?

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