What is sustainability?

Posted March 8, 2020 in Interviews & Spotlights, Teacher Spotlights By Community Relations

Sustainability is an important issue for all of us at Wesley College. Here, Deputy Head Nathan Jessup explores this important topic.


A few years ago, a prominent advertising magazine included the word ‘sustainability’ on its list of the ‘jargoniest jargon’. The rationale was that the term is a good concept gone bad because of misuse and overuse.

In the current age most people associate sustainability with the environment. This is not surprising given our rising awareness of the perilous state of the planet. To understand ‘sustainability’ in these terms is to limit its scope and original intent. Despite being an environmental scientist, the late Donella Meadows was one of the first to promote a broader perspective. She believed that the aim of sustainability is to fully realise human potential.

Recently, our understanding of sustainability has expanded even further. To act sustainably is to uphold basic human rights, seek economic justice, strive for global peace and demonstrate a genuine respect for nature. It is about humanity sustaining not only the planet, but also humanity itself as an ethical influence on the world.

It is these aspirational views that I want to reflect upon within the context of this publication, as they not only capture the essence of sustainability, but also align strongly with what we should seek in our approach to educating children.

Sustainability and education are both balancing acts. This is because a host of different variables, influences and opinions are at play. Associated with this is the intersection of sometimes conflicting and competing demands; conservatism versus disruption; consumerism versus contribution; progression versus preservation. The list could go on.



The key is finding a dynamic equilibrium. One that seeks to improve our way of life—without detrimentally affecting others—both now and into the future.

Achieving this is a challenge, as it requires us to resist the urge to be reactive. In a world where innovation moves so quickly, it is hard to avoid being swept up by the latest craze or fad. If you are not trending, you can be quickly dismissed as irrelevant. This applies as readily to sustainability as it does to education.

A recent Huffington Post article considered this paradox. Charting the brief history of sustainability, it suggests that the concept is not a trend but an ethic. It therefore takes discipline, conviction and a degree of courage to stay true to your ethos rather than jumping at shadows.

At Wesley College, we are acutely aware of this. For some 96 years, we have stood by the motto Audendo Atque Agendo (By daring & by doing). For our existence to remain consistent with our essence, we know that we have to live by this creed rather than just pay lip service to it. I hope that you gain a sense of this as you flick through the pages of this magazine.

To this point, I have drawn parallels between the challenges and opportunities facing both sustainability and education. I will conclude by suggesting that education also sits at the very heart of sustainability. For humanity to continue to exist and flourish, it requires our children to learn what it means and takes to live well, and to contribute to a truly sustainable future.

Senegalese environmentalist, Baba Dioum, beautifully captured this sentiment in a powerful speech he made in 1968. He stated, ‘in the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’

Timeless words that go some way to proving that, when language is used well, it can transcend the most ‘jargoniest jargon’.


This article first appeared in the Wesley College magazine, The Wesleyan. To read more articles from our Sustainability-themed edition, please click here.

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