by Thomas J. Rogers
The 1992 UN Summit for Environment and Development held in Rio
de Janeiro, which produced Agenda 21, the global sustainable development
agenda, set in motion a wide array of government and civil society
activities to implement sustainability. Amongst these was the
establishment of national councils on sustainable development.
In the United States, The President's Council on Sustainable Development
(PCSD) was established by President Bill Clinton in June 1993
to advise him on sustainable development and to develop "bold,
new approaches to achieve our economic, environmental, and equity
goals." The PCSD is a federal advisory committee with no
real power to set policy, but a very real opportunity and obligation
to stimulate support for movement towards sustainability in the
US. Its mission, as described in an official overview, is to 1.
"Forge consensus on policy by bringing together diverse interests
2. "Demonstrate implementation of policy that fosters sustainable
" 3. "Get the word out about sustainable
" and 4. "Evaluate and report on progress
The Council is comprised of representatives from all sectors
of US society including business, education, labor, government,
civic groups, etc. The body, co-chaired by a representative of
business and a representative from the environmental community,
worked over the course of three years to generate a consensus
amongst very diverse interests and perspectives on moving the
US towards sustainability. This process occurred in the context
of the Council as a whole and in an array of sectoral task forces
established to include hundreds of other citizens. The result
of this work, by 1996-97, was agreement on a definition of sustainability
(from the Brundtland Commission, 1987), a vision statement (see
inset), a statement of shared beliefs, and ten "national
goals for sustainable development" along with an extensive
series of policy recommendations. These were all articulated in
Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity,
and a Healthy Environment for the Future, a report by the PCSD
released in 1996. Also produced were a series of nine reports
from task forces involving hundreds of representatives from particular
sectors. One of these task forces focused on "public linkage,
dialogue, and education."
"Our vision is of a life-sustaining Earth. We are committed
to the achievement of a dignified, peaceful, and equitable existence.
A sustainable United States will have a growing economy that provides
equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe,
healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations.
Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource
base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which
all life depends." (Sustainable America, iv)
The PCSD defined the national goal on education in the following
manner: "Ensure that all Americans have equal access to education
and lifelong learning opportunities that will prepare them for
meaningful work, a high quality of life, and an understanding
of the concepts of sustainable development." Education was
identified as an integral part of the PCSD's long-term strategy
for rebuilding communities and moving into the next century. The
Public Linkage, Dialogue and Education Task Force, which included
many prominent educators and thinkers from throughout the nation
and all levels of the educational system, went further and articulated
a vision of education for sustainability (see inset), a set of
indicators to measure progress, and a series of recommendations
on paths for achieving these objectives. In three policy recommendations,
the task force also called for: 1. Reforming formal education
to integrate education for sustainability, 2. Encouraging informal
education and outreach on sustainability, and 3. Strengthening
education for sustainability through policy changes.
"Education for sustainability is the continual refinement
of the knowledge and skills that lead to an informed citizenry
that is committed to responsible individual and collaborative
actions that will result in an ecologically sound, economically
prosperous, and equitable society for present and future generations.
The principles underlying education for sustainability include,
but are not limited to, strong core academics, understanding the
relationships between disciplines, systems thinking, lifelong
learning, hands-on experiential learning, community-based learning,
technology, partnerships, family involvement, and personal responsibility."
(Public Linkage, Dialogue and Education Task Force Report, 1997)
Since the release of these reports, the education for sustainability
community, which includes ULSF and cooperating partners such as
the members of the Alliance for Sustainability through Higher
Education, have supported the continued implementation and further
development of the agenda articulated by the PCSD task force.
Efforts by Alliance members, including ULSF, have focused on building
a movement for sustainability in and through higher education
as well as on increasing the capacity of individual institutions
to embody sustainability in their scholarly activities, curricula,
operations and outreach. Recently, these efforts have increasingly
focused on building demand for education for sustainability in
the higher education community. While steady progress has been
made, it has been slow and often isolated rather than systemic.
As Tony Cortese, President of Second Nature, an Alliance partner,
has stated: "We wish to make Education for Sustainability
a cornerstone of all learning, research, operations and community
outreach in higher education so that the next generation of teachers
and other professionals will have the awareness, knowledge, skills
and values to practice and promote sustainable development. For
the overwhelming majority of 3,700 US higher education institutions,
such an educational experience is not a priority."
A consensus has grown within the community of those committed
to advancing this agenda that it is necessary to make a quantum
leap towards education for sustainability in the US or suffer
the consequences of having a society unprepared for the challenges
of the 21st century. This must be done through greatly expanding
the network of those involved in this effort. An opportunity for
launching such a network and movement is being presented this
In May of 1999, the President's Council for Sustainable Development,
along with the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF)
and other groups, are sponsoring the National Town Meeting for
a Sustainable America in Detroit, Michigan, and other points across
the US. This unprecedented gathering of some 3,000 Americans aims
to "catalyze a national movement towards sustainable development"
in the United States. As the PCSD program announcement states,
this three-day event "will build on the collective efforts
by the PCSD and other stakeholders to define and achieve a sustainable
future for America." ULSF, it's Alliance partners, and many
other representatives from the education for sustainability community
have been deeply engaged in planning for this important gathering
and a major program focus on education has been included.
The National Town Meeting will bring together educators and policy
makers from throughout the United States and provide an opportunity
to highlight and profile the unique role which education plays
in shaping the thinking, values and actions of Americans. It will
also emphasize the great potential educators and institutions
of higher education have for advancing the sustainability agenda.
The gathering will also provide an opportunity to highlight "best
practices" in education for sustainability and those practices
that build links between institutions of higher education and
the communities they serve. Finally, it is hoped that the event
will provide an opportunity for educators to build towards a new,
national and broad-based initiative in education to strengthen
the movement for education for sustainability which is so critical
to building a sustainable future in the United States and the
For more information, visit the NTM website at www.sustainableamerica.org
or call 888-333-6878.
Thomas J. Rogers is Associate Director of ULSF and CRLE.
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